“And ever since then, I just knew what I had to do to be strong. And when I’m full, like I am right now, I’m like…unkillable” – Megan Fox, Jennifer’s Body (2009)
As a lifelong lover of film, some cult films I watch for the first time urge me to ask aloud: “Why didn’t I watch this before??” My most impactful experience was with Jennifer’s Body (2009). I first heard of Jennifer’s Body because of my favorite band: Panic! At The Disco. They released a single, “New Perspective,” for the movie. This was the first single released by the band following a previous lineup’s split after their sophomore album, Pretty. Odd. and before their post-split album, Vices & Virtues. I had “New Perspective” memorized within an hour of its midnight release all those years ago, but I did not watch Jennifer’s Body until 2018. Honestly, the reason it took me so long to watch it is because the ratings, reviews, and promotional material made it out to be a terrible film and not worth my time. However…once I finally watched it, I realized that interpretation could not have been more wrong.
More on that later. Time for some overly thorough, up-to-the-turning-point summary:
We meet Needy (Amanda Seyfried) as she narrates from a period within the aftermath of the story. She takes us to the point in time where the story begins and catches the viewer up on her lifelong friendship with Jennifer (Megan Fox). Jennifer is an attractive and popular cheerleader, and Needy is more reserved. It is clear from the beginning that although the two appear close, tension and resentment boil under the surface. The movie is set in Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota, a small town that is the home of a mysterious waterfall that seemingly devours everything dropped into it (important foreshadowing alert). One night, Jennifer takes Needy to a local bar to see a band called Low Shoulder. After meeting the band and overhearing them talking about Jennifer, Needy gets a bad feeling about the members and advises Jennifer to not get further involved with them. A minute or so into the first song, a spark from the equipment causes the bar to catch fire in a consuming and deadly blaze.
Needy and Jennifer escape the fire through a bathroom window. When they are outside and Needy attempts to help Jennifer get over her shock, the band’s vocalist comes up to them and invites Jennifer to come with them in their van. Needy begs Jennifer to stay with her, but Jennifer willingly goes with the band. Back at home and alone shortly after, Needy calls her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons) in a panic over the fire and not knowing what has happened to Jennifer. Hearing the doorbell ring, Needy cautiously goes downstairs. No one is at the door; she ends the phone call and follows a noise through the house. Suddenly, Jennifer appears behind her in the dark kitchen. She is unresponsive and covered in blood. Eventually, Jennifer slowly grins at Needy, revealing bloody teeth. She opens the refrigerator and takes out a rotisserie chicken, which she begins to eat with her bare hands. Needy tries to talk to Jennifer and get her to stop; Jennifer emits an otherworldly scream and vomits a black substance onto the kitchen floor. Needy runs to her phone in the entrance hallway to call for help. Jennifer pins her to the wall, whispering in her ear to ask if she is scared. Needy nods fearfully, and Jennifer departs into the night.
The next morning, Needy sits in class among her classmates sharing what they heard about the fire. To Needy’s surprise, Jennifer appears, bubbly and vibrant. Jennifer acts as though she doesn’t remember the interaction at Needy’s house when the latter confronts her about it. Furthermore, Jennifer makes it clear that she does not care about what happened at the bar or that anyone died. That afternoon, Jennifer kills a quarterback by supernatural means and leaves what is left of his body in the woods behind the high school. The community enters an even larger collective grief. The story jumps forward a month, and Jennifer is looking sick and weak. She accepts the offer of hanging out with a boy in her class with whom she usually had no interest. She gives him an address for an abandoned house. There, she seduces him, kills him, eats most of him, and regains her strength.
After her second kill, Jennifer enters Needy’s bedroom to tell her why the killings are happening. Jennifer reveals that the band took her to the Devil’s Kettle waterfall after fleeing the fire. Their intention was to sacrifice a virgin to Satan to obtain a successful music career. They tie her up at the falls, and the singer reveals their plan and how they are carrying it out. The singer stabs Jennifer multiple times, throws the dagger he used into the falls, and they leave her body behind. Jennifer reveals that she woke up, and she found herself making her way back to Needy. Along the way, she killed and devoured an exchange student who had also escaped the fire. Jennifer tells Needy this story in an effort to help Needy understand what is going on; she assures Needy that she has no intention of hurting her. Needy figures out that since Jennifer was not actually a virgin when she was sacrificed (she lied in an attempt to protect herself), the ritual went wrong and turned on her. Now that Needy knows what happened to Jennifer that night, she takes a new approach to solving the string of despair in Devil’s Kettle: learning how to kill a demon.
It is no secret that many film lovers who actually watched Jennifer’s Body took issue with the way it was initially marketed. Megan Fox is obviously strikingly beautiful, but there is more to her performance and the character of Jennifer than what was advertised. Several promotional images for the film took a sexualizing approach to how Jennifer was presented. While Jennifer’s skills of seduction are important to this story, the promotion of the films made it the sole focus. Therefore, the film was not fully or accurately represented to potential audiences.
This film does a great job of taking real-world issues, like toxic relationships and misogyny, to elevate the horror. It is not an accident that Jennifer only targets boys her age. Through the stories she tells throughout the beginning of the movie, it is obvious Jennifer is often used and belittled by boys interested in her. Jennifer’s body is used as a sacrifice (both figuratively and literally) for men to further themselves, and it becomes a vessel of bloody revenge. This component of Jennifer playing the role of the antagonist definitely puts Jennifer’s Body on the feminist satire team (think The Love Witch by Anna Biller).
The relationship between Needy and Jennifer acts as tension in the story just as much as the demonic being Jennifer becomes. No matter how many times I watch this movie, the ending where Needy gets revenge on Low Shoulder gets me every time. Maybe she did it to get back at them for the entire situation and the deaths they caused, but I always feel the spark that she does it to avenge Jennifer, too. Their friendship may not have been the healthiest (we see many examples of Jennifer bullying Needy), but Needy still felt tethered to Jennifer’s better side after growing up together. Various examples of blocking and cinematography throughout the film present their complicated relationship and the pain they experience when it is clear their friendship is not what they hope for it to be.
Jennifer’s Body is a story about truth, vengeance, and the eroding properties of toxic relationships. I am so grateful to have come across this movie, especially at a point in my life when I could truly appreciate its many facets. There is no doubt that this film and the cast deserve more respect than they did at first. Jennifer’s Body changed the field for women in horror and horror stories in general. I am currently writing a horror novel starring two young, female leads with a (somewhat) similar bond, and there is no doubt this movie has inspired many aspects of it. As I wrap up my own story, I see myself revisiting Jennifer’s Body to be inspired even more by everything it has accomplished.
Until next time,