10 years on: is Jennifer’s Body a subversive cult classic?

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10 years ago, Jennifer’s Body was released to mixed reviews and failed to leave a mark on audiences. In the coming years, the film has gained a cult fanbase and is widely considered by many to be a misunderstood gem. This is because of both the perceived quality and the themes being re-assessed in today’s world, as well as the film being removed from its rather sexist marketing that catered to teenagers who liked Megan Fox. I decided to watch it for the purposes of understanding this re-evaluation and whilst I didn’t like it, I can understand what director Karyn Kusama was going for.

The premise revolves around high school student Anita “Needy” Lesnecki (Amanda Seyfried) and her friend Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), who go to a bar one night where a band called Low Shoulder is playing. The bar catches fire and in the chaos, Jennifer ends up going with the band on her own. Jennifer comes back the following day seemingly unharmed, but it soon becomes clear that she has been changed into a man-eating succubus.

Despite the marketing revolving around the male gaze, what is most interesting is how little that plays into the film itself, both through the lack of nudity and the film’s negative take on sex, with even the one positive sex scene being cut short. There is also a kiss between Jennifer and Needy that is admittedly gratuitous, but this moment is far more important than just a bit of fanservice. Though Jennifer and Needy’s friendship is fake and toxic compared to Needy’s more genuine one with boyfriend Chip (Jonny Simmons), the romantic subtext between them is so strong that it is practically text.

It’s also easy to see this film as coming from an early #MeToo-inflicted position. The band, Low Shoulder, are shown to be celebrities that have a decent reputation but are in fact a group of evil men who harm women. Sound Familiar? Interestingly, Jennifer is turned by these men into the supernatural equivalent of a sexual predator, luring men into sex and eating/killing them, whilst also literally embodying negative stereotypes about women being “man-eaters”. There are a lot more ideas about gender and sexuality that are collected together, making Jennifer’s Body more interesting and ambitious than something that critics dismissed as “Twilight for Boys”.

But as a film, Jennifer’s Body is fundamentally flawed. The storytelling is unbearably slow, with it taking far too long for anything interesting to happen, as shown by how Jennifer’s change is not explained for an hour. Also, whilst I respect screenwriter Diablo Cody for trying to bring the personality of Juno to a project of a (mostly) different genre, her trademark quirky dialogue gets very obnoxious very fast. Finally, though most of the acting is good, Jonny Simmons gave such a bland and low-energy performance that I was fighting the urge to yell “SPEAK UP!”.

The two aspects that did carry the film for me were the leads and direction. Amanda Seyfried is genuinely likeable and charming, as she is in most films. Megan Fox is better than people gave her credit for, mainly because her performance has a lot of self-awareness and range, with the sequence that reveals what Low Shoulder did to her being surprisingly well-acted from her. Despite an overuse of darkly lit sequences, there is a lot of style in the polished cinematography and the special effects for the violence look extremely convincing. But jump scares aside, it is not frightening or suspenseful enough to work as a straight horror film, nor did I find it funny enough to work as a comedy. It also was not dramatically engaging due to the slow pacing, so I cannot call it successful in getting me to feel anything, despite finding plenty to analyse.

Overall, Jennifer’s Body is a film I respect, but do not like. Despite that, I did get much more out of it than I probably would have 10 years ago. Back then I was a 10-year-old who had a crush on Megan Fox due to Transformers, so I would have been suckered in by the marketing that helped contribute towards Fox’s overexposure and eventual false image of “bitchy sex object” (look up her and Michael Bay’s history and you will see what I mean). I’m glad that the people that like the film like it for non-shallow reasons. Also, my sympathies go to Megan Fox for the unfair hatred she has had to deal with over the years.

2/5

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