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Jennifer's Body: Why Megan Fox's Killer Thriller Might Have Been Ahead of Its Time

The questions that still haunt, 15 thirsty years after Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried drew last blood.

By Benjamin Bullard
Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) wears a bloody white dress in Jennifer's Body (2009).

As nostalgia-triggering cult classics go, Jennifer’s Body (streaming here on Peacock!) is a deliciously odd little outlier. Produced for a scant $16 million and arriving with a thud at the late-summer 2009 box office, it’s the kind of movie that never successfully aligned its marketing with its actual on-screen messaging, meaning a lot of people who haven’t seen it probably retain some ill-informed ideas about the hellish high school deeds that really went down in the aptly-named tiny town of Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota.

More than most late-2000s movies that’re now decrepitly barreling toward their 15th birthday, Jennifer’s Body walks a strange razor’s edge of feeling both old — even for its times — and still as fresh as a recent release. On the one hand, it’s set in a place that vibes like a wistful horror throwback to the sweetly innocent ensemble killer teen flicks of the 1990s (think Scream, The Faculty, and I Know What You Did Last Summer). Yet on the other, it’s hardly managed to date itself at all. Whether it’s texting an address to lock in a high school hookup or tossing around the kind of ditzy teen verbiage that never really goes out of style, no one would blink if Jennifer’s Body were to debut as a new movie today… and if the horror fates have any sense of humor, it might even do bigger box office numbers the second time around.

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Why Jennifer’s Body was way ahead of its time

Megan Fox will forever reign as the titular glammed-up poster mascot for Jennifer’s Body, but the movie really belongs to costar Amanda Seyfried (who plays Anita "Needy" Lesnicki, Jennifer’s nerdy second-fiddle best friend) and an amazing supporting cast that manages to rotate through a whole bloody smorgasbord of acting awesomeness.

No joke: The bench-riding JV team (as Jennifer herself would no doubt describe it) is stacked to the rafters in Jennifer’s Body, including an early-career turn from Chris Pratt (as a hormonally lunkheaded police trainee) alongside J.K. Simmons (as a stiffly clueless high school teacher). There's also Amy Sedaris (as Needy’s attentive mom), Adam Brody (as a satanically sleazy rock-’n’-roll wannabe), Johnny Simmons (as Chip, Needy’s completely honest and uncomplicated boyfriend), and an especially great turn from Veronica Mars and Smallville alum Kyle Gallner, who knocks his role out of the park as a thoughtful and circumspect high school goth kid who deserved better than becoming Jennifer’s penultimate late-night snack.

Told as one big extended flashback after Needy’s violently gone off the rails and been captured by the state’s youth penal system, the terror-tale setup in Jennifer’s Body explains itself simply enough. In a town as small as Devil’s Kettle, Jennifer and Needy share enough childhood history to sustain their status as unbreakable BFFs, no matter that Jennifer’s leagues ahead of Needy when it comes to looks, popularity, and just having an instinctive grasp of the wider world's pop-culture trends.

Where Needy is normal and grounded, Jennifer’s definitely all style and no substance… so when she drags Needy out to a derelict local hangout to make flirtatious headway with a visiting band of rockers “from the city,” it sets off the alarm bells that ping on Needy’s safety radar. Needy probably should’ve listened better, too; their harmless little groupie fling ends up touching off a tragic fiery event that shakes both the town and the high school, even as Jennifer emerges from the chaos with an attitude that takes cruel teen sociopathy to all-new heights.

Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is covered in dark goop in Jennifer's Body (2009).

There’s an expertly-orchestrated early scene in the film where Jennifer surprises Needy at home after going AWOL at the worst possible time. Fox’s demented red-toothed grin while standing in Needy’s kitchen is up there with any uncanny rictus in Smile for sheer shudder-inducing creepiness. From there, it’s not long before Needy suspects that Jennifer’s somehow connected — possibly even supernaturally — with all the recent death and destruction, and Jennifer eventually ratifies Needy’s out-there theories by ditching the teen talk just long enough to get serious and tell her bestie what really transpired on the night that the tranquil town’s shared happiness went up in flames.

Yep, Jennifer’s sort of a vampire, it turns out — but not the kind who exactly signed up for the whole blood-bathing gig by choice. How she got that way in the first place is one of the movie’s great late revelations (no spoilers!), but it’s safe to say that Jennifer’s been cursed with the need to feed — and that it’s a toss-up call, right up until the end, whether she actually enjoys her newfound evil powers or is simply forced to operate by the ironclad logic that governs her occult-ish, boy-biting survival mode.

Some critics have dinged Jennifer’s Body for its uneven story pace, but director Karyn Kusama (Æon Flux, Yellowjackets) and writer Diablo Cody (Lisa Frankenstein, Juno) pepper it throughout with the kind of well-crafted set pieces that tend to atone for a multitude of horror-movie sins. You can’t crown a high school terror flick without bringing all its loose-hanging threads together at the big high school dance, and the action that cross-cuts the dressed-up event in Jennifer’s Body (just check out the atmosphere in that swimming pool scene!) still rates as a truly epic way to settle the score for everyone you’ve come to care about in the film.

From the opening assault to the very last bite, no ounce of screen time is really wasted in Jennifer’s Body, a cult horror classic that’ll forever have us puzzling over whether it arrived just a little too early — or perhaps way too late — for the terror-movie times that spawned it.

Stream Jennifer’s Body on Peacock here.

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