Citizen's Cinema: Jennifer's Body

This past September marked the 10 year anniversary of Jennifer’s Body, a comedy horror film directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody. The film focuses on a teenage girl turned succubus who begins to kill off her male classmates. A fire that burns down a bar sets the plot in motion, and even though the film is a comedy, it takes quite a lot of time to focus on the tragedy of death in the small community of Devil’s Kettle.

While the film certainly delivers on scares and laughs, it takes its time to delicately address the deaths of Jennifer’s (Megan Fox) victims. Each death is not just viewed as a strange murder, but as something that shakes the community. The initial fire shocks everyone in the town and school, with many of the students displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even the fear that Needy (Amanda Seyfried) experiences when she is near Jennifer is believed to just be anxiety from the trauma of the fire. When Jennifer claims her first victim on screen, she is able to manipulate him not because of her sexual prowess, which she tries to use, but because he is so distraught about a friend dying in the fire.

She is able to overpower the captain of the football team because he’s so emotionally damaged by death. When she finds him he’s dissociating, and he begins to cry when she speaks about his dead friend. There’s nothing amusing about the set-up; surprisingly, it realistically handles the situation.

The murder of goth student Colin (Kyle Gallner), which Jennifer confesses to Needy that she committed, leads to the most heartbreaking scene in the movie. Colin’s other goth friends attend his funeral and beg to be the ones in the coffin, which causes his mother to snap. She is brutally honest, saying he’s not in the spiritual world but just lying in the coffin, a boy whose life will never be fully lived because of a cold-blooded killer. After this funeral Needy’s narration is just as cynical, saying that at this point the students were tired of funerals and tragedy - a statement that is far more poignant today.

As students of today, we live with the fear of not making it to tomorrow because of white violence. White supremacists threaten violence every day, seeing as America has had 334 mass shootings this year alone as of September. No student knows if they will make it to their graduation, or when death will strike them because of senseless gun laws that allow mass shootings to continue. Jennifer’s Body, despite being released before major shootings at Sandy Hook or Parkland understood the exhaustion and stress that students endure in tragedies like these.

More than that, the rate of teen suicides has increased in recent years. Most students likely know someone with suicidal thoughts or attended the funeral of a fellow student who committed suicide. The film is eerily accurate in displaying the individual tragedies of death; the way that funerals look for someone who will never graduate. That exhaustion that Needy speaks of isn’t out of apathy, but out of being mentally and emotionally drained. School tragedies, especially ones brought by suicide, have increased by such a magnitude that so many students have become completely fatigued by trauma.

On a lighter note, the film has become more relevant with its feminist and queer themes. With creative control in the hands of women, the film makes a striking point not to over fetishize female sexuality, especially teen sexuality. There is nothing sexy about Jennifer in her murders; just because she’s a succubus doesn’t mean she isn’t still a teen. She maintains control over her image and enjoys sex; this is compromised when the cult band kidnaps her thinking she’s still a virgin. Jennifer only loses control and becomes the sex-crazed teen people believe she is at the hands of men believing it’s their right to abuse her.

The film has also been hailed as a piece of queer cinema because of the relationship between Jennifer and Needy. They are each other’s only friends, and as such are believed to be lesbians by the other teens. Though it’s denied by Needy, the kiss the two share, as well as Jennifer’s line “I go both ways,” marks the characters as likely bisexual in a year where f*g was still a widely used and loved insult; being queer wasn’t exactly something one did publicly. A teen movie of that era even acknowledging this without using overt stereotypes is welcoming to look back on. Needy and Jennifer clearly love each other, and though the film doesn’t end well for them, their first silent interaction spells a more interesting relationship than that of Needy and her boyfriend.

Jennifer’s Body is a fun horror-comedy that has now become a cult classic. Critics dismissed it upon initial release, however as its anniversary rolled around many were celebrating the film as an icon of feminist and cult horror. It truly is more relevant now than ever before, not only with its feminist and queer themes, but with its striking accuracy in depicting modern tragedy. Students today can of course relate to the fun celebrations of youth in the films of today like Booksmart (2019) or Love, Simon (2018); some, however, might find more solace in Jennifer’s Body and its ability to capture the humor, horror, and tragedy of modern high school. It’s just a shame it took this many years, and deaths, to realize the film’s poignancy.

Featured Posts