Ten years ago Karyn Kusma gave us Jennifer’s Body, a movie that was not well-received and was marketed in a way that completely misunderstood the message of the film. It has now grown into a cult classic and is beloved by many, especially women in the queer community. In the past few years, articles and essays have surfaced analyzing why people are now recognizing the film as a powerful movie, instead of the campy and silly movie it was deemed before. It is by no means serious and still maintains its campy reputation, but now people are looking past those surface qualities for something deeper. This has to do with the fact that times have changed. A decade ago, general audiences probably weren’t ready for a movie like Jennifer’s Body. Today, it is known for the sharp dialogue, written excellently by Diablo Cody, and its underlying feminist themes.
The film begins at the end, with Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) looking upon her best friend, Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), lying in her bed with Fall Out Boy posters above her. “Hell is a teenage girl,” Needy narrates. The film starts out as a classic high school story, with Jennifer playing the typical hot, bitchy girl and Needy tagging along as the nerdy and insecure friend. After a horrible fire at a local bar where an indie band is playing, Jennifer returns to Needy as a boy-eating demon. As their friendship begins to deteriorate and more people are murdered, the movie turns into a wonderfully violent feminist tale about female relationships, beauty, and sexuality.
The film’s primary relationship featuring our two main characters is that of a toxic friendship. Jennifer constantly undermines Needy and pokes at her insecurities. Needy seems to always be walking a thin line with her. At the beginning of the film as Needy gets ready to go to the bar with her, she explains that she can’t outdress Jennifer but still needs to impress her. When Jennifer and her jokingly call each other gross and push each other, it ends with Jennifer roughly shoving Needy into the door and Needy’s annoyed expression. However, the night goes on without mention of the aggressive act.
Early on, Needy’s boyfriend, Chip, points out that Needy does everything Jennifer tells her to. Needy’s nickname is clearly not ironic in that she is constantly trying to please Jennifer and excuses her manipulative actions. Needy responds to Chip by saying that they have things in common (when they clearly don’t) and that “sandbox” friendship is forever. Details like this all point to classic toxic female friendships that so many of us encounter in our adolescence. Needy puts up with Jennifer’s comments and actions in order to maintain a friendship that is past its due. It is both comedic and sad to see the two of them struggle against each other. But underneath the restrained hostility between them, there still appears to be a love for one another. After Jennifer explains to Needy that she is eating boys to survive, she explains that she could never hurt Needy. And Needy’s utter devotion to her friend is still rooted in a deep love that they once had for each other. Like she said, whether it is healthy or not, “sandbox” friendship is forever.
What adds another layer to this complex friendship is the idea that Needy, and perhaps Jennifer, have romantic feelings towards one another. This is made most clear in the iconic bedroom scene in which Jennifer and Needy make out. Known as one of the best female makeout scenes in a film, this scene resonates with people for many reasons. On a surface level, the scene appears to be pointed at exciting the male audience. However, if you have been paying any attention at all to the rest of the movie, this scene means so much more. Needy clearly has feelings for Jennifer that go beyond friendship. Her relationship with her boyfriend appears to be dull and unexciting. The scene just before the makeout one is a sex scene between Needy and Chip, intercut with Jennifer’s “date” with Colin. The sex scene is awkward and not passionate, especially as Needy begins to see Jennifer’s demon form and one of the boys she killed. Clearly Needy is not interested in Chip during this moment, which is made even more apparent when the very next scene is her making out with Jennifer.
This is not the only scene where Needy is shown having an attraction towards Jennifer. In one of the first scenes of the film, as she watches Jennifer cheer from the sideline, a classmate leans in and says “You’re totally lesbi-gay.” When watching Low Shoulder play ‘Through the Trees” at the bar, Jennifer takes Needy’s hand in hers. As the song reaches its emotional chorus, Needy looks at her best friend like she wants more. Once the chorus fades out, Jennifer drops her hand and is solely focused on the cute lead singer in front of her. Needy’s expression is full of disappointment and sadness.
The possibility of the girls having feelings for one another is treated respectfully and realistically. Needy is never made fun of for liking Jennifer, apart from the comment at the beginning. Her feelings are validated by scenes like the one in the bar. The makeout scene is focused entirely on the two girls, and just how much Needy wants Jennifer. There is a realness to these feelings and emotion to it, not just a subplot put in there for a male audience. It is details like these that resonate with many queer girls who are fans of this movie.
But delving into the relationship between Jennifer and Needy is only half of the film’s genius. It also plays with the way women’s bodies are stolen from them, usually through violence. Jennifer is sexualized from the start. It is sometimes hard to remember that she is only a high schooler, especially when played by Megan Fox, who was 23 at the time. This is done with a purpose. She flirts with every boy she comes into contact with and uses her sexuality to obtain things that she wants. Being seen as a sexual being, she is the typical girl to be the first one murdered in a horror movie. This stereotype is due to decades of horror films using the sexuality of women as an excuse to kill them and teach them a lesson.
The members of Low Shoulder conclude that Jennifer is a virgin because they think girls like that love to flaunt their sexuality despite never actually having it. This assumption, of course, is incorrect and leads to Jennifer becoming possessed by a demon. Once she is no longer human, Jennifer continues to use her sexuality to lure men so that she can eat them. She needs them to be frightened and alive as she consumes them. Many see Jennifer’s taste for boy’s blood to be comedic and refreshing. This is a role that women rarely get to see in film: a sexual woman is attacked and she turns it into revenge in a way that doesn’t use it against her. The genre of “rape-revenge” stories tend to be insensitive and usually use women’s pain for entertainment. In the case of Jennifer’s Body, Jennifer survives her attack because of her sexual nature. This is seen as her saving grace, especially as she continues to use it to hunt men to survive. She is not punished for her sexuality.
The reason that Jennifer is not always seen as the villain by audiences is attributed to the fact that many can sympathize with her. Women and girls are sexualized throughout their daily life from a very young age. We live in a culture where we are seen as objects and where there is a long history of oppression towards women. This makes the horror of being attacked or raped a prominent reality. As Jennifer gets into the band’s van after the fire and Needy watches helplessly from the ground, there is a definite fear for Jennifer. We know that getting into a van with strange men will most likely end with dreadful consequences. When Jennifer explains later on what actually happened to her, we are shown the band members paying no mind to her fears and showing zero remorse in what they are about to do. While riding in the van, Jennifer even asks if they are rapists. Adam Brody’s character responds with “God, I hate girls.”
The actual sacrifice scene is the most terrifying scene in the entire movie. Jennifer is truly just an innocent high school girl. Sure, she’s kind of bitchy and promiscuous, but that doesn’t make her death scene any less tragic. Watching men gloriously stab a teenage girl with glee as she screams in fear is disturbing no matter the circumstance. These men are taking Jennifer’s body away from her for their own gain. It’s a clear metaphor for the way that women’s bodies have been sexualized for decades, which usually results in violence being used against them. This makes Jennifer’s new form come off as a satisfying turn of events. Jennifer, who was the victim, now holds the power to exact her revenge on the ones who have wronged her and those happen to be men.
The film begins to take a darker turn once we enter the climax. The high school dance is tonight, boys are dying, and Jennifer and Needy are in a fight. Jennifer also needs to feed again and Needy knows that she might go after her boyfriend Chip because of her vindictive nature. In a disturbing scene, we see Jennifer looking uncharacteristically rough. Her skin is breaking out and she has dark circles under her eyes as if life is being sucked out of her. She rubs globs of makeup onto her face to cover up as her eyes burn with tears. Violence is needed to remain beautiful.
As the dance commences, Needy searches for Chip. Little does she know that he is outside with Jennifer right now. Jennifer convinces Chip that Needy was cheating on him so that he will succumb to her flirtations. Once they start making out, she says “Say I’m better than Needy.” The jealousy and insecurity of her friendship with Needy are apparent, especially when she is hungry. She manages to lead him to the abandoned pool house as we see Needy rushing to find them. Jennifer sits at the poolside with Chip and says, “I feel empty.”
When Needy gets to the pool house, she finds Jennifer already feeding on Chip. As Needy tries to fight to save Chip, the two best friends have the fight that has been building up between them the entire film. Their jabs at one another are honest and they each know how to piss the other one off. Jennifer kills Chip then runs off. Later, when Needy goes to Jennifer’s house for a final confrontation, we are met with tragedy. As the two fight on Jennifer’s bed, Needy pulls out a boxcutter. Jennifer pushes them up into the air as they continue to struggle. The climactic moment is when Needy rips off Jennifer’s ‘BFF’ necklace. In slow motion, the necklace falls to the ground. The girls begin to fall and we see Jennifer, the expression on her face appearing to be human and full of betrayal. As they both land back on the bed, Needy stabs Jennifer directly in the heart. Though dramatized, the fight between them is truly relatable to what a fight with your best friend feels like: The end of the world.
And so we come full circle. Needy is in a mental hospital explaining her story to the audience. Chip is dead and so is Jennifer. No one wins. For a movie that, up until this point, has been such a fun watch, the ending seems like it is going to leave us in heartbreak. Except Needy now possesses some of Jennifer’s abilities and is able to escape. In a victorious ending, we see Needy exact revenge on the ones who stole her best friend from her. The credits roll with a bloody array of images as evidence of Needy violently killing Low Shoulder. Revenge has been achieved.
The true happy ending is the fact that this film is now getting the praise it deserves. Appearing as another campy horror film featuring hot girls and bloody murders, it gives an audience so much more to look at, especially a female audience. From the experience this film offers, we received iconic lines such as “I am a god” and “She’s just hovering, it’s not that impressive.” It also gifted us with an empowering villain that we can laugh and sympathize with. The film balances humor and tragedy on such a fine line that it seems impossible to recreate. Ten years ago, the world wasn’t ready for a film like this. Today, it is embracing it with wide and remorseful arms. Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody’s film is finally understood for what it was meant to be, and it deserves its title as a cult classic.