Ten years ago, audiences watched Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) brutally murder and eat men on-screen. And they hated it.
When “Jennifer’s Body,” starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, hit theaters in fall 2009, it became an instantaneous box office flop, almost universally mocked by critics. Over the last decade, however, this horror-comedy has steadily grown in popularity, gaining praise and prestige it never saw while in theaters.
Wickedly funny and wonderfully dark, this film centers on two female leads: The demon-possessed cheerleader Jennifer Check and her nerdy best friend Needy Lesnicki (Seyfried). Their phenomenal performances, paired with screenwriter Diablo Cody’s fast-paced, witty script make this movie a must-see.
So why was it originally such a commercial failure? “The studio had a strong, unshakable belief that this movie needed to be marketed to young men, specifically,” Cody told “Entertainment Tonight” in a recent interview celebrating the film’s 10th anniversary.
“I got a very memorable email from a marketing person at the studio once,” she continued, “where I had sent him this articulate defense of the movie and here is how it should be marketed and said, ‘What specifically are you thinking?’ And he wrote back: ‘Megan Fox hot.’ Three words.” Looking at the posters, this marketing strategy is immediately apparent: a close-up of Fox’s red-painted, seductively parted lips; Fox posed in a sexy school-girl outfit (which she never actually wears in the film), her legs spread just enough to be suggestive.
Essentially, the marketing team brought in audiences full of young men who wanted to objectify Megan Fox for a movie in which every single man who objectifies Megan Fox ends up violently and horrifically killed. While this strategy obviously makes no sense and completely misses the point of the movie, it was typical treatment for any project involving Fox at the time.
Following the release of “Transformers” (2007), Fox became an international sex symbol. “Objectified is not the right word. It doesn’t capture what was happening to me at the time. But it wasn’t just that movie, it was every day of my life, all the time, with every project I worked on, with every producer I worked with… I think I had a genuine psychological breakdown,” Fox herself said in the “Entertainment Tonight” interview.
Later in the interview, referencing a “Jennifer’s Body” scene in which a group of men try to use Jennifer as a human sacrifice, Fox said, “that was really reflective of my relationship with movie studios at that point. Because I felt like that’s what they were willing to do, to literally bleed me dry. They didn’t care about my health, my well-being, mentally, emotionally, physically—at all.”
In many ways, Jennifer perfectly embodies that stereotypical popular girl everyone loves to hate. Trapped by constant objectification, her social status relies completely on male attention. She lacks any agency to stop men from using her body and sacrificing her for their own pleasure. It’s a trope we all recognize from real life, but this time, thanks to magic and demonic possession, Jennifer actually gets to take revenge.
There are no words to describe how cathartic it is to watch an hour and a half of Jennifer Check eviscerating misogynists. In a delightful subversion of common horror tropes, this Sexy Girl isn’t the victim; she’s the monster.
Still, Jennifer is gorgeous. She’s sexy. She’s desirable. In some ways, she’s everything the trailer and posters promised. But unlike almost every other Sexy Girl to grace the big screen, Jennifer’s desirability isn’t effortless. We watch Jennifer constantly struggle to maintain that level of perfection. She has to keep eating human flesh in order to stay strong. If she goes too long between kills, her beauty will fade. Her state of hypersexuality is literally a demon that must be fed.
This distinction is the fundamental reason why this film is so brilliant—the same reason that the predominantly male audience threw it under the bus 10 years ago—“Jennifer’s Body” is about turning the inherent violence of performing femininity outward instead of inward. It’s about a teenage girl destroying the men who force her to become an object, instead of destroying herself.
In a brief scene near the end of the film, Jennifer stares at herself in a mirror, exhausted and worn down, in need of a human snack. Juxtaposed with her reflection is a photograph depicting a younger, brighter version of herself. We watch Jennifer smear make-up over her face, blinking back tears, desperately trying to become that unattainable image. In that moment, we see the true violence of performed femininity and self-sexualization—the way teenage girls tear themselves apart trying to achieve perfection.
Later, Needy reveals that before Jennifer turned to cannibalism, she had an eating disorder, showing once again that Jennifer’s destructive path started long before the supernatural got involved. The violence was simply being committed against herself. In Needy’s words: “Hell is a teenage girl.” Even as the film explores its other themes of developing sexuality, internalized homophobia and toxic friendships, it repeatedly returns to the violence of performing for the male gaze in a stunningly insightful look into the female experience.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that Hollywood—years before the #MeToo movement—didn’t care to see “Jennifer’s Body” succeed. And it’s also likely the reason why the movie is now rising above cult status, uplifted by the growing female voice in the film industry to become a truly popular film. Jennifer has finally found her audience.