Jennifer’s Body is a modern classic that didn’t properly find its audience until long after it hit theaters. Initially (and unfairly) maligned by both critics and audiences, cultural shifts have caused viewers to reexamine this film. Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody’s female-driven tale of monsters and carnage has found new appreciation among horror fans, as we have begun to reevaluate both the film and its feminist themes. In addition to just being a fantastic horror movie, Jennifer’s Body is a fascinating example of an old, well-worn fear finding new life within a modern context.
In Jennifer’s Body, Jennifer (Megan Fox), the most beautiful, desired girl in her small town of Devil’s Kettle, finds herself undergoing a great many changes after she is the victim of a satanic ritual gone wrong. A rock band tries to perform a virgin sacrifice in exchange for fame and fortune, but the ritual does not reach its proper completion due to the fact that Jennifer is not actually a virgin. Instead of dying, she survives, but now harbors a demon within her. Though the demon is not referred to by name, her best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried), determines through research that Jennifer has been taken over by a succubus: a female demon that seduces and destroys men.
After the botched ritual, Jennifer’s behavior and demeanor change, as she becomes more aggressive and even violent with the boys at school. After class, she approaches Jonas (Josh Emerson) on the football field, where he is mourning the loss of a friend who died in a fire on the night the ritual was performed. Jennifer offers him the opportunity for consolation (with the promise of sex), and the pair head into the woods. There, Jennifer rips his shirt open and shoves him against a tree trunk. She pauses a moment, letting his fear settle in, before eventually attacking him as the scene concludes off camera. We learn later that Jonas has been viciously killed and mutilated.
Though Jennifer certainly seemed to take pleasure in the act, she isn’t just out for recreational violence. Thanks to the demon, the blood of her victims has a restorative effect on her. Like a vampire, she feeds off it and uses it to renew her power—in this case, her power over men. From Jonas’ death, Jennifer is rejuvenated. She is glowing, her hair is full of life, and she appears energetic and magnetic. A few days later, it fades, as the power she received from her kill begins to wear off. She looks exhausted and plain. Diminished.
Knowing that she must feed again, she next sets her sights on Colin Gray (Kyle Gallner). Though she was initially disinterested in him when he asked her out, she quickly spies the opportunity for an easy and willing target, and sets up a date. After luring him to an abandoned house, she begins making aggressive advances.
Colin, slightly taken aback by the sudden attentions of the girl who had earlier turned him down, asks with disbelief, “Do you even know my last name?” She deflects, brushing off his doubts and claiming that that she has been sending him signals all year.
After Colin lowers his guard slightly and accepts Jennifer’s sudden interest, she quickly and viciously breaks his arm. As he screams in agony and in terror, she says, “I need you frightened... I need you hopeless.”
At this point, the monster within her is fully released. Her mouth unhinges and sprouts rows of razor-sharp teeth. In the shadows cast on the wall, we see her attack the shrieking and terrified Colin and rip him apart.
Under the influence of the demon, Jennifer undergoes a drastic change, becoming not just a monster but one that revels in the joy of the kill and the pleasure in seeing her victims in pain. Jennifer has become something fiendish, and in doing so, embodies a legend that has existed for hundreds of years, across dozens of cultures: that of a monstrous woman preying upon men.
Over the course of the story, Jennifer goes from being the woman that men desire to being the thing they fear most. Through her transformation, she comes to personify archaic patriarchal fears about women. Instead of being a “good” girl who accepts the sexual advances of men, she becomes a predator. She begins seeking out her prey (men) and lulling them into a state of vulnerability before tearing them to pieces, becoming stronger with each victim.
Legends of the succubus, the siren, vagina dentata, and many others are prevalent across the world. This concept is seen throughout cultures and history—the vicious woman who will first tempt and then kill men. This fear has persisted for generations and taps into the hidden terror that men may somehow be bested and ultimately destroyed by women.
Here, Jennifer has come to embody that legend, and makes it a part of the modern world. Under the demon’s power, she goes from beautiful and coveted to even more beautiful and terrifying. She begins to weaponize that beauty and uses it to trap her suitors. In the beginning, though she takes ownership over her own sexuality, boys pursue her. She is an object of desire; a prize to be won. As the film goes on, she becomes more predatory, making more direct advances on her male classmates and seducing them before ultimately attacking and killing them.
Jennifer’s Body brings a great deal to the feminist discourse in film. Examining the themes at the heart of this story reveals a great deal about our society’s shifting views on the power of women, as well as the ways in which those views have not changed at all. Jennifer's Body harnesses legends and fears that have existed for hundreds of years and encapsulates them for the modern world.