Chances are if you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community, a fan of Megan Fox’s work, or generally have good taste, you’ve seen the cult classic, Jennifer’s Body. This quotable and quirky horror movie was a flop at the box office when it first came out in 2009 but has become a beloved Halloween must-watch in recent years as fans have come to appreciate the witty dialogue, stellar performances, and emotionally relevant story. It’s no shocker the Music Box of Horrors has decided to feature this tale of teenage treachery, giving fans a chance to revel in all the scares, sarcasm, and salacious cinematography that makes Jennifer’s Body the feminist hit we know and love today.
“Hell is a teenage girl.” Never has an opening line better set the stage for a film than this. In the first voiceover alone, screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, Tully), beautifully sets the audience’s expectations for 102 minutes of gritty and girly horror. Cody’s sharp writing packed with zingers and quips is enhanced by the brilliant directing style of Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Destroyer). The script’s charm lies in its ability to feel like we’re listening to the characters interact in another language. They use obscure slang and phrase things in a way that feels like it’s just toeing the line of parody. Not only that, but the cast is stacked to the brim with actors who flawlessly execute this esoteric language with ease – making the humor shine in the truly bizarre lines, and the heartache swell in the shockingly tragic ones. Overall, the film does something not many movies have been able to achieve: it illustrates the gore, guts, and grit that comes with being a teenage girl.
Jennifer’s Body is your classic teen flick: Girl has confusing feelings for her best friend. Girl begrudgingly goes to a concert to make her best friend happy. Girl watches as her best friend gets ritually sacrificed to Satan by an indie band and becomes a demon who murders boys to stay alive. You know, typical John Hughs stuff.
In all seriousness, Jennifer’s Body is a hard film to summarize. Set in Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota, we follow Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), a bubbly, charming, and flirtatious cheerleader, and Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) her devoted and studious childhood best friend. Jennifer convinces Needy to ditch plans with her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), and instead accompany her to an indie rock show at a local dive bar. After a suspicious fire destroys the bar and kills dozens of people, Jennifer is whisked away into a van by the band’s sleazy lead singer, Nikolai (Adam Brody). Nikolai and the band mistakenly believe Jennifer to be a virgin and bring her out to the middle of the woods, where they ritually sacrifice her to Satan in exchange for fame and fortune. The sacrifice is a success, but because Jennifer is not actually a virgin, she becomes possessed by a succubus who relies on murdering and eating people to survive. Needy, who has an almost telepathic connection to Jennifer, discovers her friend’s secret and struggles with both her own romantic feelings for Jennifer, as well as with the knowledge the friend she once knew and loved, is gone.
While a horror movie on the surface, the heart of Jennifer’s Body lies in the gritty and awkward attraction between Jennifer and Needy. Throughout the film, we watch both girls struggle with their infatuation with each other, clumsily stumbling through the jealousy and unspoken feelings that can pervade in any high school romance, but especially a queer one. Jennifer makes cruel and biting remarks when around Needy, using her sarcasm as a defense mechanism against her very real feelings of lust, jealousy, and love. At the start of the film, Jennifer grabs Needy’s hand in a moment of glee as she watches Low Shoulder, the aforementioned band of Satan worshippers. In slow motion, we see the emotions play out on Needy’s face as this small gesture sends her into a silent headspin. Much later, when Needy and Jennifer finally kiss, the innocent confusion of the previous moment is gone, and instead replaced with the sexual intensity and authenticity of two best friends dipping their toe into something more, even for just a moment.
Cody has spoken often in the past of how Jennifer’s Body is a film meant to mirror the horrors of puberty and the “hellish emotions felt during high school [that] often reappear as teenage girls mature into young women.” It’s a story of emotional empowerment and violent vulnerability, and the oftentimes horrific ways the two can intersect during your teenage years. It’s essentially what makes Jennifer’s murder of, usually innocent, boys feel so sadistic, but also so deserved. Watching Jennifer give in to her every whim and fancy, specifically the violent ones, echoes a freedom many teenagers desire – the freedom to express your emotions with the dramatics and violence adolescent emotions deserve.
There’s much about Jennifer’s Body one can praise, but the thing that stood out to me as I rewatched this film in 2020, is how ahead of its time it was. In fact, many modern-day critics have praised it for being an underlooked, and irreverent film that was grossly misjudged when it was first released. Frederick Blichert even went so far as to state that the “themes of abuse, empowerment, and accountability would likely be a winning formula with horror movie critics in the #MeToo era,” in his 2018 Vice article titled ‘Jennifer’s Body’ Would Kill if It Came Out Today. Jennifer is a sexual person – something female characters are typically punished for in horror movies. The slut dies first and is used as an example for the other characters. Yet, Jennifer defies this trope. Jennifer survives. She is not punished for her sexuality. In fact, she is instead allowed to use her sexuality to reclaim autonomy over her body after being robbed of it by Low Shoulder’s violent, and murderous act.
The movie makes a profound statement on the objectification of women, young queer romance, and the impact of trauma on a teenage girl. Cody and Kusama deliciously subvert the horror genre in a multitude of ways, but my favorite aspect is how they make Jennifer a villain you relate to. Jennifer is left in a state of emotional and physical devastation after her murder, and you spend the entire movie watching her become more and more numb to the world while portraying a picture of perfection to her peers. Therefore, near the end of the movie when she says, “I feel empty,” to Chip moments before murdering him, it’s Jennifer you feel bad for, not Chip. She is as much a victim as Chip and all those other boys were – the only difference was her trauma, like most survivors, was invisible.
You know a movie is good when the titular character’s dying words manage to make you both laugh and cry simultaneously. Only Jennifer’s Body has the capacity to incite such contradicting emotions in a scene and leave you feeling simultaneously satisfied and saddened as the end credits roll. It’s a movie whose relevance is still felt today, despite it being almost ten years since the film’s release. The script, performances, and soundtrack alone are guaranteed to leave you smiling, while the emotional resonance of the film is an added bonus to an already fantastic movie. So grab your car, your fellow “lesbi-gays,” and anyone else looking for an iconic and raunchy film to spice up the Halloween season, and go watch Jennifer Check come back to life on the big screen one more time at the Music Box of Horrors Drive-in theatre this Monday, October 19th at 9:30 PM.
Jennifer’s Body *Unrated Verison*
Featuring a Pre-Taped Q&A with Director Karyn Kusama | A Part of Music Box of Horrors at the Drive-In Presented by Shudder
$30 per car / $25 Music Box Members
Starting at 9:30 PM on Monday, October 19th, 2020
Chi-Town Movies Drive-In located at 2343 S Throop St, Chicago, IL 60608
Drive-in admittance begins 30 minutes prior to the films’ listed start time