Many horror films push a sexist agenda against women. We are all aware of the misogynistic tales of morality that punish certain women for living freely, while rewarding so-called "good girls" for adhering to a rigid set of archaic values that pander to social conformity. However, these films should not overshadow horror movies that are overtly empowering, like Jennifer's Body (which also happens to be one of the most grievously underrated films of all time). Written and directed by Diablo Cody, Jennifer's Body is less primordial and more feminist than some critics and audiences might consider. In it, the two women don't run away from danger — they step up to it.
"Hell is a teenage girl," says Anita "Needy" Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) at the beginning of the film. It is a facetious quip on Jean Paul Sartre's infamous line, "Hell is other people," from the 1944 play No Exit. Ironically, the person Needy is referring to is her BFF, Jennifer Check (Megan Fox). Upon closer inspection, Needy's comment serves as an ominous warning about what's to come.
Jennifer's Body isn't simply a movie about a possessed teenage girl, it's also about what it means to love a monster like her. It is a vivid exploration of a complicated female friendship that, apart from suffering the angsty woes of teenage-dom, must also battle the emotional trauma inflicted by a supernatural entity. In the end, Jennifer's Body is a feminist horror in which the female protagonist and the female antagonist are not hags or mere objects of desire — Needy and Jennifer are more than the sum of their sexuality, and are beyond the common characterizations of virgins or spiteful women.
By directing our focus on two very different teenage girls, Jennifer's Body aligns our sympathy and concern with the woman being pursued and the woman who is hunting. Needy and Jennifer aren't damsels in distress. Instead, these young women pick up the pieces and get down to business because there's no time to waste.
But what happens when the villain is a deeply-wounded person who has endured their fair share of trauma? What kind of heroine does it take to bring down someone like that?
We know that Jennifer is a complicated teenager, not just because of her crass commentary and falsely-projected confidence — but also by her pure exhibition of demonic strength. Jennifer's alternative ethos are thrust to the side, so we can concentrate on her insatiable appetitive as a man-eating demon. She is a complex character who is difficult to love or loathe. After all, Jennifer turns into a demon because a virginal sacrifice goes awry. Before she transforms into a monster, though, Jennifer becomes the victim of sexual assault. It's only after she begins to harness the overwhelming nature of her gastro and sexual appetite that she evolves into the sleek, steely monster that everyone in her high school considers her to be.
What lies on the surface is nothing compared to the monstrosity that has resurrected a new version of Jennifer Check. She is an enigmatic and haunted villain who is hard to pin down. Jennifer's Body indulges in the exploration of Jennifer's burgeoning desires which reach the tenor of horror due to the presence of toxic masculinity and the horrendous assault carried out on an unbeknownst Jennifer. On the night Jennifer drags Needy to watch some wannabe indie rockers perform in a grimy bar, everything goes to hell when a fire burns down the building and kills numerous people. What's worse? Nikolai, the lead singer of Low Shoulder, isn't just obsessed with black eyeliner. He's also a full-fledged Satanist. Nikolai, along with his disgusting band members, lure Jennifer into their seedy van and take her into the woods. Jennifer later explains to Needy that members of Low Shoulder offered her up as a virgin sacrifice to Satan in exchange for fame and success.
Thus, begins Jennifer's killing spree as a demonic man-eater. She traps lustful teenage boys who are enticed by her body. But no matter how many bodies she rips apart, Jennifer can't fill the ever-growing void inside her. To put it simply, Jennifer is equally hypnotic and horrifying. Her creepy curiosity about the boys and men she's hunting is mesmerizing. Her presence is overwhelming as her victims remain largely unaware of their impending doom — similar to how she feels about her own death. There's something about Jennifer that burrows its way into your brain and remains there long after the movie ends.
When you factor in Needy's revenge kill at the end, we see that Jennifer's Body isn't built on tired, exploitive tropes. Aside from their gory, blood-drenched battle to the death, Jennifer and Needy's friendship endures till the very end. Needy remains sympathetic to Jennifer's cause, ultimately tapping in to her BFF's messed-up emotions and looking deeper than Jennifer's body. This is a story about a blossoming, young woman whose body is used and broken down for the personal gain of men. When Jennifer re-emerges after her assault, she copes with this violation by using her sexual prowess to feed on the very individuals who have dehumanized her — and failed to look at her as nothing more than a body, ripe for their taking.
Meanwhile, Needy's ability to simultaneously love and hate her best friend with an unshakeable intensity renders her one of the finest weirdos in modern-day horror. Even after Jennifer has transformed into a demon, Needy does not let go of the person she grew up with and loves. Needy knows there is more than what meets the eye. Her own loss of innocence and transition into womanhood awakens a monstrous nature that has long remained dormant. It is exactly the type of sentiment Needy needs in order to survive.
In the end, this wondrous weirdo and her best friend, who is an oddly reluctant villain at times, finally master the balance between base impulses and their own brand of feminine violence. Although Jennifer is a former mean girl with demonic strength, her murderous rampage doesn't paint her as a villain. Yes, she needs to be stopped, but Jennifer is also a victim. She transforms into a demon man-eater after being violently stabbed and offered to Satan by Nikolai and the rest of Low Shoulder. They mistakenly believe Jennifer to be a virgin. Rather than being punished for her sexual experiences, Jennifer is "saved" by them. She rises as a formidable foe against those who have wronged her, and it is utterly glorious. In fact, Needy (who is supposed to be a "good girl") also loses her virginity to her boyfriend towards the end of the movie. The girl with glasses, who always plays coy under Jennifer's shadow, is no longer a wallflower. The shift signifies Needy's decision to stand on her own, and prove she can flourish without Jennifer. And, she does.
Both Jennifer and Needy elicit an emotional response that might seem impossible, especially in the way they both subvert the male gaze despite being oogled at and desired sexually. These two female characters experience intense psychological and physical trauma, and their responses reveal a deeper truth about human nature and feminine power.
Jennifer and Needy serve as a wonderfully divisive villain and hero, respectively. They are fully realized, thoughtful characters who weren't constructed in haste. Their demanding presence reaffirms the belief that it is possible to see feminine agency in horror films. Amidst an avalanche of contrived horror films that perpetuate decades worth of stereotypes and deeply misguided views on womanhood, Jennifer's Body rejects these ideals and turns them on their head with level-handed precision. It is a underrated horror film — and that's the real tragedy here.