Jennifer’s Body (2009) walked so Promising Young Woman (2020) could run. A horror-revenge teen drama by writer Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama starring Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, Jennifer’s Body proved to be a flop and received mostly scathing reviews at the time. With particular thanks to the studio 20th Century Fox which wanted to capitalize on Fox’s “hotness” while promoting the film, the film was marketed to the male gaze, the very thing the film was subverting. The film follows the friendship of Jennifer (Fox) and Needy (Seyfried) and how Jennifer is turned into a demon-possessed boy-eating teenager when she is sacrificed as a “virgin” to Satan by a ‘seemingly cool’ boy band.
Adding a female gaze to horror, the film is now considered a cult classic and has been appreciated for its addressal of the idea of victimhood, violence against women and the male gaze, especially post the #MeToo era. Not to forget the toppling of the cliché ways in which female characters are constructed, especially in horror cinema and also otherwise. Jennifer’s body is the central site of contention - she is only valued by the men around her for her body, but when violated, it becomes all the more powerful and starts returning the favor. It’s notable how the camera never appears voyeuristic or intrusive. The times the director cleverly tantalizes the audience through Jennifer’s body is not to reveal it but make the audience question their own gaze. The objectification of women is so internalized and normalized that one begins to expect it and is often frustrated when it isn’t delivered.
The men in this world are largely a disappointment. They either view women purely on sexual terms, position themselves as ‘nice guys’ and pretend to be allies, or offer care and concern but refuse to believe the narratives of women - all of them ultimately getting hunted down by either of the two female protagonists. The boys hunted by Jennifer blindly throw themselves in suspicious circumstances just to be able to sleep with her. The killing of the ‘boys’ is the killing of people who remind Jennifer of her assailants and how the assault committed with her was not by a single man but a vigorous culture that promotes that violence. Even though Jennifer turns into a monster, she hunts only for survival, waiting till the very end when she absolutely has to. Her friendship with Needy is important to her and she rushes to Needy after every hunt. Jennifer’s characterisation possesses a vulnerability that doesn’t let one turn away from her. Needy, unlike her nickname, is also not the typical leading lady and holds narrative centrality and agency, fulfilling the ultimate revenge.
The film’s excellent writing shines in the sacrifice scene of Jennifer as it’s not severely dwelled upon. It highlights the fear of a woman captured by a couple of ill-intended men. Violence against women has become a mundane and expected part of the media consumption and the film refuses to fulfill that expectation. Instead, the gore is reserved for the killings of the boys. What’s also commendable is the casting of Megan Fox as Jennifer for addressing predatory male behavior. One isn’t oblivious to how Fox came to be presented as the ultimate object of the male gaze and was reduced to that in the kind of roles she was offered to play. Like Jennifer, discourse around Fox has largely been transfixed around her body. In recent interviews, Fox has revealed how the sacrifice scene from the film represented her relationship with Hollywood and the movie studios in general at the time, as she was being sacrificed for their gain with absolutely no concern for her well-being. The role was a cathartic and powerful experience for her as she could let out all that she was trying to keep in.