Why Jennifer's Body is still socially relevant

Contributed by
Sep 18, 2017

Jennifer’s Body continues to be smarter than it gets credit for. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what didn’t work for critics back in 2009, but the first swath of reviews were mixed at best; eight years out from its initial release, however, it’s evident that many were content to leave the film behind as a failed attempt to subvert the teen horror genre without delving into what really makes it a success.

Technically, it can fall into the "teen horror" category, but Jennifer’s Body encompasses so many more themes than that. It’s a dark comedy, with clever quips and pop culture allusions infused into nearly every line of dialogue - and sometimes to a disturbing degree. (The scene where Jennifer is sacrificed to Satan by the band Low Shoulder would already be disconcerting, but it's when they start singing Tommy Tutone’s “Jenny” while lead singer Nikolai brutally stabs her that the entire thing adopts an even more awful undertone.) Jennifer’s Body harmoniously pairs comedy and horror through much of its plot - but the real heart of the story isn’t solely about a teenage girl’s desire for revenge or the physical metamorphoses that take place within the walls of a high school; it’s a love story, albeit a tragic one, and it plays out between two best friends.

Female friendship is always complicated, especially between young women. There’s a reason middle and high school years are often so fraught with emotion and turmoil for girls. Not only are they attempting to comprehend the bodily changes that occur within this timeframe, but they’re dealing with the issue of burgeoning sexuality. For many young women, emotional and sexual desire is heightened, and so intertwined that the lines can blur. It’s no wonder, then, that Jennifer and Needy’s friendship is continually misunderstood not just by critics but by the spectators within the arena of their high school as well. From the beginning of the film, Needy fields snarky comments from her classmates about whether or not she and Jennifer are lovers. Never mind the fact that Jennifer has slept with a few guys by this point, or that Needy has been in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend Chip. They’re close, and therefore inscrutable, and Jennifer’s Body makes a point of indicating that several times.

Needy’s reliance on Jennifer is more than obvious. It’s right there in her nickname. Early promotion for Jennifer’s Body categorized her obsession with Jennifer as something of a “lesbian infatuation,” but that’s a gross misrepresentation of their friendship. Over the course of the movie, it becomes increasingly obvious that for as much as Needy wants to be drawn into Jennifer’s orbit, Jennifer craves Needy’s presence to the same extent. After being sacrificed and then possessed by a demon, the first house Jennifer stumbles towards, covered in her own blood, isn’t her own - it’s Needy’s. Once Jennifer vomits a spiky black goo all over the kitchen floor and then leaves, Needy sobs as she cleans up the mess left behind. It’s as if she knows that this night has irreparably torn them apart.

Even after Jennifer dies and comes back different, her transfiguration isn’t enough to completely sever that enduring connection. Sandbox love never dies, after all. As Jennifer’s strange behavior and growing appetite for young men threatens to divide them, there are still moments when Jennifer and Needy’s link seems to transcend mere emotion. In several instances, Needy is able to almost psychically sense Jennifer’s presence - once when Jennifer comes to pick her up for the Low Shoulder concert, once while having sex with Chip while Jennifer is killing one of their classmates, and then during the climax of the film when Jennifer sets her predatory sights on Chip to seduce him and then feed on him. Jennifer’s murderous tendencies have put an irreparable strain on her and Needy’s friendship up until this point, but it seems like she’s still attempting to get rid of anything that stands in the way of their full dependence on one another - including Needy’s boyfriend.

Needy’s ultimate revelation about Jennifer’s true nature and eventual decision to confront her is intended to be devastating. It doesn’t fulfill the trope of the heroine simply vanquishing the monster for good. It’s a last resort brought on by desperation. Their ultimate confrontation in Jennifer’s bedroom is a savage echo of the exploratory kisses they shared earlier in Needy’s, right down to Needy straddling Jennifer on the bed. This time, however, there’s nothing tender about it and Needy stabs Jennifer right where it hurts them both the most: her heart. Afterwards, it should be no surprise that Needy becomes something colder, less innocent, a hollowed-out version of her former self. Of course, she’s been bitten by a succubus and has, therefore, become something not entirely human, but she’s also been forced to kill the one person she truly loved.

Jennifer’s death changes Needy, but it also allows her to evolve. Gone is the cautious, timid high school girl. In her place is a confident, give-no-f*cks woman. Through Jennifer’s death and the transference of her bite, Needy is almost able to absorb the best parts of her best friend into herself, but it’s what she chooses to do with her newfound abilities that is perhaps the most telling part. Escaping from the asylum where she has been confined for Jennifer’s murder, she tracks down Low Shoulder and brutally murders them - because truthfully, the blame for all of this actually rests on the group of men who sacrificed Jennifer all in the name of securing fame and fortune. If Needy can’t bring Jennifer back, she can avenge her instead.

On its surface, the film can be summarized as being about the horrors of high school and what manifests thanks to the mixture of teenage hormones and a desperation to be liked, but there’s a deeper message too. Peel back the onion layers and Jennifer’s Body is more accurately about two young women and what happens when their friendship evolves into something self-destructive that threatens to leave one of them behind. Hell is a teenage girl, as Needy cleverly invokes, but a group of teenage girls is a force to be reckoned with.