Written by Malin Evita
Mild spoilers ahead for Jennifer’s Body — a movie available to watch on Disney+ (WW) and Hulu (U.S.)
“You’re killing people!” Needy (Amanda Seyfried) whispers with force at her life-long friend turned possessed and cannibalistic, Jennifer (Megan Fox). “No. I’m killing boys.” Jennifer corrects her, “Boys are just placeholders. They come, and they go.” Her voice wavers from mocking to playful like it was the most obvious statement in the world.
It had been two years since the world had first seen Megan Fox dressed in a pink tank top and a low rise skirt as she fixed the iconic yellow Camaro while the camera lingered on her figure. It didn’t take long after her breakthrough performance in Transformers (2007, dir. Bay) that her image was plastered on every magazine and straight teenage boy’s wall.
Megan’s body became famous, and with that came expectations of an equally seductive persona. The actress knew that this was how she would have to present herself to maintain her spotlight and career. In an interview with journalist Lynn Hirschberg, she said: “You are sold, and it’s based on sex.” And so she created a personality that, on a very generalising note, men salivated over and women slut-shamed.
She was outrageous for her time, and regardless of whether she was worshipped or crucified, people still viewed her the same. In her own words, “if they think you’re attractive, you’re either stupid or a whore, or a dumb whore.” She had become the next Hollywood sex symbol, and even if she wanted the public to see a different image of her – or beyond an image at all – there wasn’t much she could do about it. For example, in a 2009 interview with E!, she spoke about finding men her age immature and finding more profound connections with older men instead. The writer, Jennifer Cady, mockingly concluded the interview with this statement: “Boys her age just can’t handle the woman she is and all the deep conversations about being superhot.”
The media had dubbed her a “crazy sexpot,” and the slightest hint of depth beyond her skin was met with laughter. She was nothing but a body.
After a huge box-office success with the first film, Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen (2009, dir. Bay) was coming up and the studio wanted it to go even bigger. So naturally, Megan Fox (reprising her role as Mikaela Banes) was everywhere. Whether it was from a professional shoot or a paparazzi photographer, her pictures were unavoidable. And people started to get tired of her. On August 4th that year, several men’s websites and forums even staged a “Megan Fox boycott,” vouching to not post or add traction to any images of her.
It seemed that Megan was afraid that this would happen as well, as she in an interview that same year said that she wasn’t a fan of the overexposure she faced left and right. “I don’t want to have people get completely sick of me before I’ve ever even done something legitimate,” she told Nylon Magazine. In the same interview, she talks about her excitement of something new that’s coming, something that will hopefully establish her in a new light. Something to give her legitimacy as an actress, not just eye-candy.
And that was Jennifer’s Body.
“There’s nothing there to distract you from my performance. […] So if it’s bad, it’s going to be fucking bad for me. And if it’s good, then I will have achieved something on some level.”
Written by the award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno, 2007) and filmmaker Karyn Kusama, Jennifer’s Body is a genre-breaking horror-comedy set in the small town of Devil’s Kettle. It follows the tumultuous friendship between the popular “it” girl, Jennifer (Megan Fox), and her more introverted best friend, nicknamed Needy (Amanda Seyfried).
After a fire breaks out at a bar where Jennifer’s favourite band, “Low Shoulder” (fronted by Adam Brody), were performing, chaos ensues, and amidst it all, the eye-lined indie band kidnaps Jennifer who is in a dazed state of shock. They take her into a white van and drives off. Later that night, she shows up at Needy’s house – covered in blood and retching black liquid. The next day? She shows up to class looking as beautiful as ever and acting as if nothing happened at all.
As it will turn out, the night she was taken, she was sacrificed in an occult ritual as a virgin gift to Satan in exchange for fame and riches. But she wasn’t a virgin, and the demonic transaction accidentally manifested in her body, permanently possessing her. To survive, she has to feed the demon through human flesh. As boys start to be brutally murdered and eaten around town, Needy puts what’s happening together and becomes determined to stop her life-long friend from killing her boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), who has been looking extra tasty to Jennifer as of late.
This is a story of the unravelling emotions of girlhood adolescence and female sexuality. It explores the all-consuming, cannibalistic feelings of hatred, love, attraction, contempt, and admiration of these two girls, who had always been at each other’s side, share. For better, for worse, and until death did them part.
Jennifer’s Body also took back autonomy and weaponised the crude and sexist trope that had (and still does) infiltrated the horror genre. It explored trauma, sexual assault, revenge, and the politics of reactions — all the while still maintaining to be a fun and witty popcorn flick. The feminist subtext is there if you want something to chew on — but if you are just looking for a good time, some clever dialogue and glossy gore, that’s there too.
But the studio, 20th Century Fox, didn’t understand this. They saw Megan Fox and advertised the film as a male sex fantasy. They targeted the movie towards horny straight teenage boys (and thus attracted forty-year-old men with equally stiff socks), promising naked girls and exploitative lesbianism. But as Megan said in the earlier mentioned quote, “There is nothing there to distract you from my performance.” She is not being objectified like usual, where drooling men were rendered incapable of noticing anything else.
How a dark-comedy about a man-eating teenager, written and directed by women, starring two young women in lead, with men playing nothing but placeholders, was in any way considered to be created solely for the pleasure of men is sadly not as much of a mystery as it should be. The public persona (caricature, really) of Megan Fox had come to be one entirely existing for men to devour. They thought her of nothing more than an idle car-wash girl, so for her to suddenly devour them? Incomprehensible.
It is safe to say, the studio’s target audience was disappointed. Scathingly misogynistic reviews raging with incel-energy destroyed the movie’s reputation and, as a result, box office. One review by a Jeffrey M. Anderson included the lovely line: “Jennifer’s Body is not funny, nor is it sexy (the girls keep their clothes on).” Similarly, James Berardinelli wrote in his one-star review of the film: “If you’re in search for a way to ogle Megan Fox’s body, there are a lot better ways to do it than subjecting yourself to this.” The possessiveness of these reviews are chilling, and the demand for her bodily objectification can’t be overlooked. This is undoubtedly a result of decades of movies and media having been sold through the male gaze, which has created an absurd entitlement for this perspective.
With the over-exposure and achievements she was reaching, and her growing desire to be more than just Megan’s Body, her career started dwindling. After allegedly comparing the working conditions under Michael Bay (who had a fifteen-year-old-her stand under a waterfall while dressed in a bikini) to Hitler, she was fired from the third instalment of the Transformers franchise. And after a few other critic and box-office misses, there was a lot less of her to see. In 2010, her and her team tried to rebrand her from the media-personality she had come to be known as, but it didn’t work. At least not until Jennifer’s Body started its redemption arc around the year 2018, following the #MeToo movement which sparked a conversation of retrospection and a sudden appreciation for the story and subtext in the film.
Jennifer’s Body was always phenomenal, but 2009 was not worthy of it. It has now become a cult classic, both within the genre and feminist and LGBTQ+ circles. With Megan Fox’s recent resurgence, and with people looking back at the way she was treated in this industry with a more educated and empathetic perspective, a new layer to Kusama and Cody’s masterpiece also appears.
As Emma Stern of She Sources said in the latest edition of the Chick Flix Film Club in discussion about Jennifer’s Body, the men in this movie sacrificed Jennifer’s body for their own use and commercial gain, just as men in Hollywood had been sacrificing Megan Fox’s body for their own commercial gain. It is a chilling parallel to her treatment by industry professionals (Michael Bay, most notably) and the media. In conversation with Hirschberg, Megan put it this way:
Listen to even more about Jennifer’s Body in the August episode of Chick Flix Film Club, a monthly programme presented by Making It: Women in Film and She Sources. This month we spoke about Jennifer’s Body and Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (2020, dir. Cathy Yan) – two movies deemed commercial flops. We explored the marketing, reception, criticism, and of course, feminism present in both. Available now on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
Written by Malin Evita
Evita is the host and producer of the podcast, Instagram curator, and a writer focused on script, cultural commentary, and film analysis. She is a Vocal grand prize winner and currently studies Professional Writing at college. Through storytelling, she aims to amplify empathy and human connectivity.