Horror comedy Jennifer’s Body was made for the female gaze, but when it was released in 2009, it turned out to be far ahead of its time. The film was mauled by critics and audiences alike, with reviews calling it a “garbage teen horror pic” and “pathetically worthless.” It received a measly critic score of 44% and audience score of 34% on Rotten Tomatoes. But twelve years later, I think it’s safe to say it’s reached cult-classic status. Just open Twitter, TikTok or YouTube – it’s even featured in a Halsey song and an Olivia Rodrigo music video – and you’ll see that the Jennifer’s Body hype is everywhere. Jennifer Halloween costumes are trending, and people are even getting tattoos dedicated to the movie. Why couldn’t we see it for what it was from the start, and why did it take Gen Z to revitalize it?
To start, Jennifer’s Body premiered at an unfortunate time. Diablo Cody, who wrote the film, had just struck gold with the success of Juno, so her subsequent release had to live up to the hype of her debut. Unfortunately, Megan Fox – who plays the main character Jennifer Check – had long been packaged as a sex object by Hollywood and was fresh off her performance in Transformers and its highly sexualized car scene. Both in press and onscreen, she was viewed as pure sex appeal, typecast over and over. While there’s nothing wrong with being sexy, it drowned out everything else that she is. “I knew that I was smart, I knew that I was funny, and then all of a sudden I was none of those things. I was supposed to just be a sexy girl,” Fox once told Entertainment Tonight. When she spoke out about her mistreatment (e.g. the infamous Jimmy Kimmel interview in which she shared, “They said [to Michael Bay, Transformers director], ‘She’s 15, so you can’t sit her at the bar and she can’t have a drink in her hand.’ So his solution to that problem was to then have me dancing underneath a waterfall getting soaking wet,” and Kimmel laughed), she was villainized by the film industry and, shockingly, by other women. In fact, when Fox spoke out about receiving direction in Transformers to simply “be hot,” the Transformers crew published a letter calling her “trailer trash” and “Ms. Princess.”
Because of this classification, Jennifer’s Body wasn’t marketed to the audience it was meant for. Those recruited for test screenings were “frat boys,” as the studio thought a Megan Fox film should be aimed at young men specifically. The negative reviews tended to come from old white men – who make up a majority of film critics – who included creepy commentary like, “No one is going to like this movie for its brain” and, “If you’re in search of a way to ogle Megan Fox’s body, there are a lot better ways to do it than subjecting yourself to this.” (A problem that persists today, BTW – and male critics are usually much harsher on women-led films than women are.) The film’s posters portrayed Fox as a scantily-clad schoolgirl, twice, and promo clips hyped a scene where Fox kisses her co-star Amanda Seyfried, discounting its meaning as a genuine display of the deep connection and romantic love between the two and misleading potential audience-goers. This hypersexualization was so intense that Fox had a “genuine psychological breakdown.”
But that was never what the film’s intention was. It centers on two women: popular cheerleader Jennifer (Fox) and nerdy loner Needy (Seyfried). They go to a concert for an indie band at a bar, which catches on fire. Needy goes home alone, but Jennifer, in shock, gets into the band’s van. In the scariest scene in the whole movie, the band turns out to be devil-worshippers who sacrifice Jennifer in order to gain more fame. They think she’s a virgin because she flaunts her sexuality (and, according to them, that’s something only virgins do), but because she’s not, she becomes possessed by a demon who’s hungry for human flesh, and begins to use her sex appeal to lure men into a trap, killing them and eating them to gain strength. It doesn’t have to be men, but she doesn’t touch women since it was men who wronged her. “You’re killing people,” Needy tells Jennifer, to which she responds, “No, I’m killing boys.” She’s no longer the flirty, giggly teenage girl from the beginning of the film; only after she lures her prey in does she show her true face – sharp teeth and all – and devour them. Many viewers see the attack on Jennifer as a representation of assault and its aftermath; we see a woman’s body used for someone else’s benefit without her consent, and how it can change a person.
There’s a trope that if a female character has sex, she’s doomed to die, but Jennifer’s unapologetically sexual nature isn’t a weakness; in a way, it’s what saved her. Another trope smashed in this movie is that of the “Final Girl.” At first glance, Needy may appear to fit this description, but she ends up surviving not because of her “purity,” but because of her love for Jennifer – when the two are fighting in the end (because Jennifer killed Needy’s boyfriend) Jennifer only stops after the other woman rips off her BFF necklace. It was realizing that her best friend had given up on her that led Jennifer to realize she was too far gone, and even through the possession she still loved the other woman.
Plan International, an organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls, found that female characters are far more likely to be objectified, which is even more common when films are written and directed by men. With women behind Jennifer’s Body, it’s clear that it was meant for the female gaze – yet the studio completely skewed it. Many young women can identify with being sexualized from a young age, especially with the way the camera shakes to represent her fear when Jennifer is alone in the van with strangers. And when Jennifer notices that her possession takes a toll on her body if she doesn’t kill and eat anyone, she’s concerned with her appearance, since that’s what men have always valued her for. Even before her possession, Jennifer knew that she could draw men in with her appearance, as evidenced when she tells Needy, “They’re just boys, morsels. We have all the power. These things [referencing her chest]? These are like smart bombs. You point them in the right direction and shit gets real.” When Needy stabs Jennifer through the chest, her last words are, “My tit,” – reflecting the only lens she can view herself through – but Needy responds, “No, your heart.”
The Jennifer’s Body revival could be attributed in part to the lens it can be viewed through in a post-#MeToo world. Powerful men (the indie band) – who initially appear to be nice guys and seem genuinely concerned about Jennifer following the bar fire – exploit a girl’s body for their own professional gain. The rest of the film follows Jennifer as she tells her own story, which we don’t often get to see, and which the internet is now rallying behind for Fox.
“I was sort of out in front of the #MeToo movement before the #MeToo movement even happened,” Fox told ET. “I was speaking out and saying, ‘Hey, these things are happening to me and they’re not okay,’ and everyone was like ‘Oh, we don’t care – you deserve it because of how you talk, because of how you look, because of how you dress, because of the jokes you make.” On YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok, people are calling for justice for Fox, and shaming those who tried to silence her. When Jennifer’s Body came out, she was called crazy and an “ungrateful bitch” (the latter by a “feminist” news site called Zelda Lily). Now, we applaud her for telling her story, and know that just because a woman is sexy, it doesn’t mean she’s not also worthy of being treated like a human being.
Because Gen Z is able to go into the film with a more open mind than previous generations, and see the deeper context in it, the film’s been able to find new life. “Jennifer’s Body to me is about how people cope with trauma and how the constant sexualization of female bodies impacts the targets of such behavior,” Meredith Connor, 21, tells Her Campus.
“I think it’s a super important feminist film,” Julianna Mitchell, 21, agrees.“It’s [also] helped me – and so many other women – not only identify their sexuality, but feel comfortable with it!” Some also love the movie because of the LGBTQ+ representation in the relationship between Needy and Jennifer. Throughout the movie, Jennifer is visibly jealous of Needy’s interactions with her boyfriend, Chip, and tries to undermine their relationship – at one point he even expresses his distaste for Jennifer constantly “kidnapping [his] girlfriend.” During the pool scene Jennifer even directly says, “I go both ways.” At the concert, Jennifer grabs Needy’s hand during a love song, and Needy’s disappointment when she realizes that Jennifer is staring at the lead singer is evident. The year that Jennifer’s Body came out gay marriage wasn’t yet legal, and not one of the ten highest-grossing films featured an LGBTQ+ character as its lead, let alone two.
This 2009 film is finding new life and new meaning with Gen Z, and getting the attention that it deserved all along. In so many ways, Jennifer’s Body was made for young women and young women only.