Women-directed horror films have seen a steady uptick in popularity over the past decade. A genre often associated with a “boys club” of creators (like much of cinema, really), horror has been the birthing ground for some of the most inventive and curious minds.
Horror has been no different for female directors. Look at films such as Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Ana Lily Amirpour’s genre-blending A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Julia Ducournau’s Raw and her 2021 sci-fi film Titane. There is no shortage of extraordinary and boundary-pushing horror films helmed by women filmmakers.
Not to say women filmmakers haven’t flourished before the past decade, but the last 10 years have seen them thrive. And with an increase in vocal support, we’ve also seen many once-disregarded films get a new lease on life, like the cult hit The Slumber Party Massacre. One of the brightest re-evaluations, however, has been Karyn Kusama’s 2009 film Jennifer’s Body, starring Megan Fox.
Written by Diablo Cody (Juno) and dripping with all the hazardous mid-to-late 2000’s iconography — from the layered tops to the Fall Out Boy poster and the soundtrack that would play your local Hot Topic and Warped Tour — Jennifer’s Body is a perfect encapsulation of a bizarre, transitional time. Given the season and our unending penchant for nostalgia, there is no better time than now to stream the cult-favorite thriller on Amazon Prime Video.
While Jennifer’s Body stays true to its aesthetic, the film’s treatment of its female leads is noteworthy. Following two best friends, Jennifer (Fox) and Anita, aka Needy (played by Amanda Seyfried), the film tracks the former's descent after a demon possesses her during a sacrifice gone awry. Jennifer must satisfy her new appetite for human (boy) flesh to keep her appearance lively, alluring, and luminescent. Once Anita learns Jennifer’s secret, she vows to end her demonic friend’s carnage.
Many critics have written about how wonderful this film is and how woefully misjudged it was upon its initial release. Deservedly, Jennifer’s Body is worth fawning over. From how Jennifer and Anita dress to how they talk, the movie playfully nods at the vixen-and-virgin tropes while making striking comparisons between demon possession and teenage hormones.
The humor is also biting, especially in its gleeful evisceration of the “nice guy” archetype embodied beautifully by Adam Brody post The O.C. fame. And the film doesn’t shy away from body horror, allowing Fox to play a role that defines and then subverts the standard beauty ideals she was always forced to play up in other movies.
One of Jennifer Body’s greatest and more re-contextualized themes is how the movie doesn’t weaponize or sexualize the female body. While we witness Jennifer under physical duress during the sacrifice, it isn’t the backbone of her plot or even the central aspect of that particular scene. Instead, director Karyn Kusama depicts Jennifer as emboldened and threatening. Fox, an actress often exploited solely for her looks, utilizes her appearance in a way that makes her feel like a viable threat. She’s intimidating, not because of her femininity but for how she’s learned to use it after being victimized.
Another aspect of the film that sets it apart is the subversion of its two leading characters. Seyfried’s character Anita in another movie would be presented as the virtuous, angelic virgin — the light to Fox’s dark — and the wholesome foil to Fox’s more seductive and sexually assertive character. However, the first moments of the film smartly make Anita almost unlikable. Instead of being the prototype protagonist, Anita is self-centered, arrogant, and needlessly violent.
Screenwriter Diablo Cody, using dated terminology that wouldn’t pass any radar in 2021), still manages to feel purposeful in how shallow and careless the characters are in their insults to one another. Cody barrels through stereotypes as a means for Jennifer’s character to continually transform. Whereas other films used the jock or the sensitive art student for narrative structure, the movie uses them as fodder.
Kusama brings surprising heart to the horror movie by exploring the gray areas of Anita and Jennifer’s relationship. The scene where the two friends kiss could have been stereotypically tantalizing, but while it is undoubtedly shot in a way to be provocative, it isn’t for the sake of cheap thrills.
What makes the moment so alluring and unique is how it is the culmination of the previous scenes, where Anita got intimate with her boyfriend and Jennifer committed another murder. The stark difference between the girls’ experiences and seeing them come together for a fleeting moment indicates how their chemistry and connection go beyond sandbox nostalgia.
Even as Jennifer and Anita’s friendship becomes complicated and fraught while the world around them turns more sinister with the threat of the supernatural, their bond remains the true heart of the film. Crass as the film may be at times, their friendship anchors Jennifer’s Body enough to allow for its more flippant moments.
Of course, Jennifer’s Body is about demons, but more accurately, it’s about how we handle change and how friendship develops over time with or against those changes. Despite weathering the shifting social statuses, interests, or even tastes in boys, Anita and Jennifer had an unbreakable bond. It was only once Jennifer’s insecurities manifested themselves (in this case, in the form of a man-eating demon) that Anita began to have second thoughts.
The film serves as a brazenly funny and comically dated look at the sheer amount of garbage women suffer. At times, it is a haunting and compelling horror film, other times a deliciously scathing takedown of the “nice guy” culture of that era. More often than not, it is a healthy blend of both.
Ultimately, Jennifer’s Body never allows us to forget how friendship can be the beating and bloody heart of a great horror film.
Jennifer’s Body is now streaming on Amazon Prime for free via IMDb TV.