With February being Women in Horror Month, there were a lot of lists flying around. Lists of badass female characters, amazing female directors, fantastic female writers, you name it! One movie that showed up on a lot of these lists was Jennifer’s Body.
I first saw Jennifer’s Body not long after it was released. It was fun, I enjoyed myself, and seeing Adam Brody play a total slimeball was immensely entertaining for me. However, seeing Jennifer’s Body on these lists surprised me. I didn’t remember being blown away by any crazy feminist undertones, or feeling that the female characters were any different than stereotypes we’ve seen a million times in horror movies. Then again, when I was in my mid-twenties, I was naive about these things, and hadn’t closely thought about my own experiences. So, I opted to give it another watch.
Two things struck me as I took a good look at my Blu-ray case. One: the tag on the back says “She’s Even Hotter on Blu-ray!” and promises a “seductive cheerleader” and “steamy action.” Ew. Strike one. Two: this movie was written by a woman, and directed by a woman (Diablo Cody of Juno and Karyn Kusama of Girlfight, respectively). I have to say, now I was REALLY intrigued…how in the hell does a supposedly feminist movie made by women get marketed like this?
Watching Jennifer’s Body, I did notice some things that I didn’t on first watch. Well, except for Adam Brody being a total sleazebag. That part I remembered correctly. (“It’s kinda dangerous out here. Want to head someplace safer, like my van?”). The first thing that struck me was how much Needy, Jennifer’s virginal friend, kicks ass. She is the rock in this story, the smart, level-headed one who figures everything out…and is of course branded as crazy and traumatized by those around her. She is confident in herself, and knows who she is, even understands the parts of herself that she defines through her friendship with Jennifer. And in the last scene of the movie in a final act twist….let’s just say some people get what’s coming to them. Holy moly!
One thing that is different on re-watch is what we are supposed to understand about sexuality from this movie. Needy is a virgin, and has a boyfriend. We see her as a strong character, and she is waiting to have sex until she is ready. Jennifer is the flip side. We see very little of Jennifer before she becomes demonic, and in that short time she is portrayed as someone who has embraced her sexuality, and is pretty casual about discussing it. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but what I have mixed feelings about is the fact that Jennifer is portrayed as very attractive, and extremely manipulative. The fact that Jennifer is not a virgin is actually important to the storyline, as she becomes demonic when she is used as a virgin sacrifice that backfires. I did appreciate that her character was not made sexually adventurous for no other reason that that she is attractive. But still, this felt a little bit like it was bordering on suggesting that because Jennifer is not as smart as Needy, she needs to be sexy to compensate. And maybe that’s how Jennifer felt, that it gave her the upperhand in Needy’s eyes.
That being said, Jennifer being able to easily manipulate men to their deaths through her sexuality can be seen as empowerment…my brain hurts.
To see Jennifer’s Body as a movie about a strong female character, you need to take Jennifer out of the equation for a moment. While this movie was marketed as a horror movie about a hot chick played by Megan Fox, I can see where the creators snuck the story about a strong girl coming into herself in there. The entire story actually has nothing to do with Jennifer, herself. After the first fifteen minutes or so, it really is just Jennifer’s body, a statement that is incredibly strong. Needy is the only one who notices that she is different. As long as she looks good, people will ignore her struggle.
The story that I connected with is Needy taking charge and getting out of a toxic friendship that holds her back from making decisions that are only for her. This movie does a really great job at portraying the volatility of manipulative friendships in high school; Needy and Jennifer are a classic Mean Girl/Nerd Bestie combo. You can see how Jennifer tries to cut Needy down in subtle ways, and you can see how Needy’s loyalty to Jennifer holds her back from making choices based on what she wants. Even Needy’s decision to lose her virginity ends up tainted by her connection to Jennifer.
Speaking of, after, her relationship goes downhill as well. Chip (her boyfriend) changes his tone. It’s subtle, but he is suddenly “the man,” giving her the “there-there, just come to the dance with me and forget this” speech when she reveals her plan. And once she has sex, he falls easily into Jennifer’s trap. He brlieves almost immediately that Needy had cheated on him when Jennifer says so. Because if Needy has had sex with him, she must be willing to with others, right?
Jennifer, even as the demon, is actually tragic. She is hung up on how she looks and being powerful; no one has shown her how to be any other way. There is a scene near the end as Jennifer gets ready for the prom. She is weakened from not eating, and so her appearance. Even Needy comments on this, though she clarifies that Jennifer looks bad…for Jennifer. Meaning she still looks great, because she is trying to. As Jennifer gets ready for the prom, she slathers her face in foundation, crying as she tries to make herself look like she feels she needs to to make her way in the world. It is heartbreaking, and gives you some insight into Jennifer’s state of being before her death.
Overall, I find it a shame that in order to market this movie, it was made to appear to be a movie that is all about a sexy girl having sexy killing times. But, it is pretty cool that these talented female creators puts the male gaze under a magnifying glass to burn under the sun. The characters are multi layered and both are relatable. Most woman can tell you a time they felt they had to look a certain way for approval, or had a friendship that brought them down in sone ways, but they were too deep to notice. I am happy to see re-examinations of this movie happening; it deserves close examination and to not be relegated to “teen film” status.
Check out the trailer for Jennifer’s Body here.