‘Jennifer’s Body’ and Other Teenage Hells
In a genre typically considered “for the guys,” it’s time to give a nod to the ladies. Uterus Horror is a subgenre of horror films that focuses on the uniquely female experience of puberty and the act of coming into your sexuality, using horror elements to emphasize and/or act as a metaphor for that experience. These films are often ignored in theaters but quickly develop cult followings. Columnist Molly Henery, who named and defined the subgenre, tackles a new film each month and analyzes how it fits into this bloody new corner of horror.
Surprise! For April you get not one, but two Uterus Horror films. Earlier this month I covered The Witch and how it fit in with the subgenre. Now, the time has come to discuss a horror fan favorite, Jennifer’s Body. There is a lot to unpack with this film, so let’s dive right in.
Director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation, Destroyer) brought the screenplay by Diablo Cody (Juno, Tully) to life. The film follows two best friends, Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried). After an indie band botches their virgin sacrifice by picking Jennifer, who isn’t even a “backdoor” virgin anymore, she becomes a boy-hungry demon. As Jennifer goes from victim to victim, Needy watches as her best friend becomes a literal maneater and tries to figure out how to stop the evil. Using humor and gore, Jennifer’s Body gives a satirical look into what life is like as a teenage girl.
On the surface, Jennifer’s demonic powers are the obvious qualifier for the film’s Uterus Horror designation. After the band makes the mistake of trying to sacrifice a non-virgin for their ritual, Jennifer becomes a succubus. One of the perks of being a succubus is it keeps Jennifer looking alluring and beautiful (plus, she’s virtually invincible). However, this all comes at a cost. After a period of time, Jennifer weakens. Her skin breaks out, she becomes lethargic and achy, and her hair loses its luster. Only one thing can bring her back to full strength: feeding on teenage boys.
The cyclical nature of Jennifer’s condition is directly comparable to a menstrual cycle. For a majority of the time, Jennifer is her usual succubus self. Then comes the time of renewal. Just like people who menstruate shed their uterine lining in a painful, bloody process to renew the uterus, Jennifer must rejuvenate herself in a similarly violent fashion. The only difference: it’s the blood and guts of teenage boys that is shed in Jennifer’s cycle. The filmmakers even make jokes about Jennifer’s situation being similar to a menstrual cycle. The first time we see Jennifer looking drab (at least as drab as Megan Fox could possibly look), Needy asks her, “Are you PMSing or something?” Later, during the climax, Jennifer is again in a weakened state and Needy stabs her through the stomach with a pole. After Jennifer removes the pole, blood gushing from her gaping wound, she asks Needy if she has a tampon. As is common with Uterus Horror, this line is a wink to the viewers who menstruate and know that a period can look and feel much like this horror movie scene.
Not only does Jennifer’s Body convey a broad metaphor for menstruation, it also examines the roles of women—specifically teenage girls—in an Anglo-Christian society. When we are first introduced to Needy and Jennifer, they are made to fit two very specific roles. Needy is the virginal, sweet, and somewhat nerdy best friend. She is the “good” one, both as a friend and as a person. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jennifer. While these two are best friends, the way people view Jennifer is quite different. She is looked at as this beautiful, sexual being and objectified, but she is also immediately established as the villain of the story, even before she becomes a succubus. Jennifer is popular, bitchy, and treats her sexuality as a fun, casual thing, which good girls are not supposed to do.
The catalyst for the horrors within Jennifer’s Body is the Satanic ritual. An indie band, Low Shoulder, believes if they sacrifice a virgin to the Devil, they will get the fame and fortune they desire. They choose Jennifer, incorrectly assuming she’s a virgin. Low Shoulder brutally murders Jennifer for their sacrifice. Even though it is the band’s mistake they sacrificed a non-virgin, they get everything they ever wanted: a big record deal, their song all over the radio, and the adoration of the entire town of Devil’s Kettle. It is Jennifer, who is already the victim of their heinous crime, who is punished for being a sexually active woman. First she is violently killed; then she becomes a succubus. Even this is indicative of how Jennifer is viewed, as succubi are traditionally depicted as demonic women who seduce and feed on men during sex. Even before becoming a demon, Jennifer was likely looked at as a “man eater.”
Needy exemplifies a different side of the same coin. In the beginning she is a virgin, generally ignored or looked at in a more childlike manner. That is, until she has sex for the first time with her boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons). It’s no coincidence that the filmmakers go back and forth between showing Needy having sex for the first time and Jennifer killing a male classmate. Not only is this a turning point for Needy, but the juxtaposition is meant to show the audience the sin of premarital sex is equal to the sin of murder, at least for women.
From this moment on, Needy is shown in a different light. Almost immediately after losing her virginity, Needy sins some more. She swears, which Jennifer points out as abnormal behavior, and she and Jennifer come very close to having same-sex relations. No longer being a virgin also means Needy is not afforded any protection from Jennifer. When Needy first encounters demon Jennifer, she is still a virgin and Jennifer leaves before she can feed on her best friend. When they see each other again after Needy has sex, one can assume Jennifer’s seduction of her friend is an attempt to feed. Luckily for Needy, Jennifer had already filled up on teenage boy. This leads to Jennifer trying to eat Needy’s boyfriend the next time she’s hungry, when she even attempts to take a bite out of Needy.
At one point during the film, Needy’s mother recounts a nightmare she had in which men nail Needy to a tree like Jesus was nailed to the cross. This is foreshadowing for Needy’s fate. After Jennifer kills Chip, Needy only sees one possible solution: she has to kill Jennifer. In her attempt to eliminate her former best friend, Needy is bitten by Jennifer just before she successfully stabs her with a box cutter. This is a pivotal moment for two reasons. First, because it shows the only way to absolve Jennifer of her sins in this society is to kill her. Second, the bite from Jennifer transfers some of her demonic powers to Needy. Needy is sent away for Jennifer’s murder and, presumably, the murders of the boys Jennifer killed. It is symbolic because Needy has taken on Jennifer’s sins, as well as the sins of Low Shoulder, just like Jesus took on the sins of the people when he was crucified.
Luckily for Needy, she doesn’t appear to need to feed regularly in order to maintain her half-demonic powers the way Jennifer did. Jennifer might have eaten boys because she enjoyed it, but Needy does it to devour the patriarchy. She breaks out of prison and heads straight for Low Shoulder. Through a delightful series of images in the end credits, the audience gets a glimpse of the carnage she reaped on the true sinners: the men who killed her best friend.
Jennifer’s Body checks multiple Uterus Horror boxes. There is the obvious connection, which is Jennifer’s demonic cycle mimicking a menstrual cycle. Yet the true heart and soul of this film is how it conveys the way teenage girls are viewed in a society dominated by straight, white, cisgender Christian men. Young girls are nothing more than objects, and their value is determined by their sexual experience, or lack thereof. It’s a powerful and important point being made by Cody and Kusama that is sprinkled with humor and splattered with gore. Needy truly said it best, “Hell is a teenage girl.”