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Chapter 6

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Don’t Stand So Close to Jennifer: Addressing Questions of Proximity,

Spectatorship, and Genre with Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody’s Jennifer’s

Body (2009)

In this chapter, I expand the focus of my analysis from horror criticism to broader

concerns in feminist film theory. As I have identified in the previous chapter, horror cinema has

often been left out of broader conversations in feminist film theory, which pays greater attention

to genres thought to play more readily to a female spectator (such as melodrama). However, as

the new wave of women’s horror cinema demonstrates, the horror genre is more than capable of

addressing female subjectivity. Using Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody’s Jennifer’s Body (2009)

as a case study, I place this film in dialogue with larger theoretical considerations of female

spectatorship forwarded by Laura Mulvey, Mary Ann Doane and Anneke Smelik, who promote

the concepts of ‘proximity’ and ‘artifice’ as integral concerns to women’s identificatory practices

and viewing pleasures. With respect to Jennifer’s Body, I explore how the film exposes

femininity as artifice, and invites female viewers to participate more closely in the horror genre

through self-referential performances of gender.

Described by one reviewer, “as if Carrie were being re-enacted by the cast of Heathers,”

Jennifer’s Body revolves around the toxically co-dependent friendship between Jennifer Check

(Megan Fox) and the ironically nick-named Anita ‘Needy’ Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried). Friends

from their early sandbox days, the two girls attempt to navigate their increasingly tenuous

relationship after Jennifer is abducted by the band Low Shoulder as part of a desperate-for-


success Occult ritual and subsequently develops an unnatural appetite for human flesh. Unable to

curb her new desire, Jennifer begins killing and devouring boys at her high school before

revealing her new supernatural abilities to Needy. Frightened by her friend’s powers, Needy hits

the books and determines that Jennifer has turned into a demon as a result of Low Shoulder’s

satanic ritual. Worried that her own boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) may be the next, Needy

confronts Jennifer at the school’s end of year dance, only to catch her ex-best friend feasting on

Chip’s neck. Unable to destroy Jennifer while also attending to a dying Chip, Needy later tracks

and kills Jennifer in her bedroom. Eventually committed to a correctional facility for the

criminally insane, Needy – now possessing some of the demon’s powers, which were transferred

to her after being scratched by Jennifer in their final fight – breaks out of the institution and goes

on to enact her own revenge by killing the members of Low Shoulder.

For all intents and purposes, Jennifer’s Body was set up to be a milestone in American

horror cinema. Upon its release, it would be one of the first times in over twenty years that a

horror film was spear-headed by two women artists, the other notable examples being The

Slumber Party Massacre (1982; directed by Amy Holden Jones and written by Rita Mae Brown)

and more recently, Twilight (2008; directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Melissa

Rosenberg). Furthermore, Fox’s character, Jennifer, was anticipated to be a drastic departure

from other strong-willed but primarily male-authored female characters of the genre like Regan

MacNeil (The Exorcist [1973]), Carrie White (Carrie [1976]), Laurie Strode (Halloween [1978]),

and Stretch (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 [1986]) who, although having suitably surpassed

the title of victim, arguably remained trapped by masculinist understandings of femininity and

womanhood. By comparison, Jennifer was supposed to be horror’s first feminist (Ball

“‘Jennifer’s Body’: Why Hollywood”). Even if her activist agenda was largely defined on the


political grounds of devouring young men for breakfast, the promise nonetheless remained:

Jennifer’s Body was going to be different.

When the film was released in theatres in September, neatly timed to coincide with the

beginning of the new school year, critical reception was rather ambivalent. Some reviewers,

mostly men, dismissed the film for its inability to shock and disparaged Kusama’s direction for

not providing enough thrills, gory or otherwise. 1 As Peter Hartlaub’s warns in The San

Francisco Chronicle, “know there isn’t a single good scare” (“‘Jennifer’s Body’ sags”). For

others, the film failed to provide its promised, feminist intervention into the genre and merely

replicated the same misogynistic tropes audiences have come to expect from horror. Speaking to

this upset, Sarah Ball of Newsweek writes, “it’s hard to feel for Jennifer as horror’s first feminist

when she’s basically written as a crass [sic].” She goes on to note, “This movie is not genre-

subverting so much as genre-reinforcing: it annihilates the symbolically feminine (emotion,

intuition, sensitivity) in one big ketchup splatter, all for the gain of the symbolically male

(physical violence, sexual aggression)” (“‘Jennifer’s Body’: Why Hollywood”).2 Other critics,

however, saw the film as successfully subverting generic conventions, and offering a highly

relatable representation of the social pressures put on adolescent girls. Addressing the

1 While I do not offer a sustained analysis of the gendered responses towards the film, I find it curious that from the selection of reviews I read (ranging from print and online sources), male critics tended to be more concerned with the genre’s integrity. This particularly gendered response would seem to fall in line with the male-authored critiques levelled at Twilight (2008), which similarly dismissed the film as romantic drivel versus hard-hitting horror (see Chapter 5). In fact, Jennifer’s Body was continually compared to Twilight in the popular press, as both became symbols of the difficulties of making horror for women. As Tom Charity from CNN writes, “The last time a horror flick tried for a distinctly female point of view the result was Twilight, which was more of a wan gothic romance than a chiller” (“Review: ‘Jennifer’s Body’”). 2 As I have mentioned, accessing a film’s feminist offerings is a decidedly fraught process. For instance, I disagree with Ball’s assessment that a feminist film needs to champion “emotion, intuition, and sensitivity.” In my opinion, a film like American Mary (2013), which arguably lacks all these qualities, can still be seen as offering an important feminist critique of sexual violence (see Chapter 4). Clearly, what is considered ‘feminist’ for one critic will not hold true for another. Given this variety, I have purposefully avoided determining a film’s political value or analytic worth on its critical reception as ‘feminist.’ For further consideration of feminism, reception and Jennifer’s Body, see Ben Kooyman’s “Whose body? Auteurism, feminism and horror in Hostel Part II and Jennifer’s Body.”


hormonally-charged drama of the film, Dana Stevens for Slate Magazine writes, “[Jennifer] is

less a teenage girl turned monster than an exploration of the monster that lurks inside every

teenage girl” (“Jennifer’s Body”). A.O. Scott’s response from The New York Times is perhaps

the most cogent. He writes, “Jennifer’s Body is not only a fantasy of revenge against the

predatory male sex,” but “goes further, taking the complication and confusion of being a young

woman as its central problem and operating principle” (“Hell is Other People”). As Scott’s

comments cue, the ambivalent reactions towards Jennifer’s Body may be, in part, a result of the

film’s subject matter, which attempts to navigate the fraught and contradictory dimensions of

teenage girlhood with a necessary dose of self-awareness. Forced to operate within the

conventions of horror in order to address “the queasy, panicky fascination with female sexuality

that we all know and sublimate,” the film exploits normative cinematic codes in order to turn the

genre “inside out” (Scott “Hell is Other People”).

In this sense, the film anticipates the very bind it must operate within; namely, that in order

to turn horror inside out it must also cozy up to the genre, getting as close as possible in order to

cannibalize it. Indeed, its closeness to genre is identified by some reviewers as hindering its

critique of gender in horror cinema, as it potentially replicates the very tropes and narrative

patterns it seeks to undermine. However, rather than disparage Jennifer’s Body for working

within genre, we should instead consider how the film uses closeness – both to the horror genre

and between viewer and image – to its ideological benefit by inviting the female spectator to take

pleasure in the on-screen spectacle of (monstrous) femininity.


“Smart Bombs”

Feminist film theorists such as Laura Mulvey, Mary Ann Doane, Anne Kaplan, and

Teresa de Lauretis (amongst others), have argued that since traditional narrative cinema is

organized by the male gaze, the on-screen woman is typically framed as an object or spectacle to

be consumed by the presumed male viewer. This means that the image of woman on-screen

merely serves as a hollow signifier, a two-dimensional representation of traditional femininity in

service of male pleasure and patriarchal culture. Within this model, classical codes and

conventions “seduce” the female spectator with or without her consent into viewing, adopting

and eventually mimicking an expression of femininity that is distinctly artificial and non-

threatening to patriarchal ideals of feminine passivity (de Lauretis 143; Smelik 17). Combined,

the screen and the image on it act as a “mimetic mirror of masculine culture” that attempts to

limit the expressions of femininity and coercively circumscribe women into desiring and

eventually adopting traditional gender presentations and their accompanying social roles (Smelik

185). For these theorists, and Smelik in particular, the mirror re-presents an image of femininity

as seen through a patriarchal lens that ultimately works to disavow female subjectivity. The

metaphor of the mirror is thus used to describe the empty property of the on-screen image of

woman, which can be likened to a fun-house reflection that warps and distorts reality but yet

presents the image as an accurate portrait. Within most feminist film studies, the effects of the

cinematic image are totalizing and constrictive, offering women few avenues of resistance. This

approach, however useful, overlooks the ways in which more complex engagements between

female viewers and cinematic images may function.


As Smelik has documented in And the Mirror Cracked (1998), a certain degree of

successful intervention has been garnered by female/feminist filmmakers who have attempted to

present “the signs and significations of ‘woman’ and of ‘femininity’ differently from the codes

and conventions of dominant cinema, while […] still employ[ing] and deploy[ing] (rather than

deconstruct[ing]) visual and narrative pleasure” (2). The success of these filmmaking practices

has led Smelik to claim that the ‘mirror has cracked,’ which introduces “if not an actual

breakdown in classical forms of representation at least a shake-up within them” (6). Though

Smelik surveys a number of practical filmmaking tactics in her study, emphasis is placed on the

ability of these feminist filmmakers to introduce more ‘authentic’ or relatable images that skirt

the line between fantasy and reality and attend to the varied lived experiences of women.

The stake in no longer having the screen function as a mirror – to see it crack and to have the

splintering pieces damage the camera eye, as Smelik describes (6) – while important to the larger

project of feminist film theory and filmmaking practices, is perhaps doubly salient for horror

cinema given the overwrought images of tortured women within the genre.

Far from displaying a flawless feminine form that ought to be desired and re-performed,

horror cinema presents an altogether abject expression of femininity that often aligns female

characters with a compulsory victimization or with the monstrous. Historically, it has been this

same pattern of denigration that feminists have rallied against, and that served as the catalyst for

feminist film studies in horror cinema. Yet, what is perhaps lacking in these studies is a sustained

theory of female spectatorship that thinks through the relationship between the female spectator

and the images of women on-screen when created by women filmmakers. As discussed in

Chapter 2, when feminist scholars do pay attention to the female spectator of horror, it is

exclusively in the context of male-authored cinema. What remains to be charted is how this new


wave of women’s horror may craft a different relationship between the female spectator and the

horror genre, and how in turn this affects representational strategies of gender.

Jennifer’s Body offers the possibility to not only re-think the relationship between the

female spectator and horror, but also overarching theoretical concerns about women’s

relationship to on-screen images of femininity. Deliberately scripted by Cody as an open

invitation for young women into the horror genre, the film positions female audience members as

‘in on the joke’ from the start, since much of the film’s work is to send up staple horror

conventions as a way of deconstructing the trap(pings) of traditional femininity (Kwan “Cody

exorcises demons”). Here, Cody and Kusama take great effort to ‘employ’ and ‘deploy’ the

codes of femininity in tandem with the conventions of horror cinema to reveal the ways in which

women are victims of patriarchy, while also respecting their capacity to navigate and exploit

misogyny to their own ends. As a result, the film expresses an ambivalence that female

audiences may relate to, showcasing the ways in which femininity is both pushed onto young

women, while also becoming a seat of power within a highly sexualized economy.

Early in the film, Needy is shown getting ready to go out to a local bar so that Jennifer

can swoon over the headlining act, Low Shoulder. As Needy tries on different outfits in front of

the mirror, she explains in a voice-over that she is to avoid any tops with cleavage since “tits

[are] Jennifer’s trademark.” Later, while at the bar, Jennifer attempts to convince her friend that

they should offer themselves as groupies for the band, much to Needy’s protestation. As Needy

begins to physically pull away from Jennifer, she is chastised by her friend who reminds her,

“They’re just boys. Morsels. We have all the power, don’t you know that? These things…

[planting her hands on Needy’s chest] these are like smart bombs. Okay? You point ’em in the

right direction and shit gets real.” While it is possible to interpret Jennifer’s advice as the result


of postfeminism, the line more accurately serves as one of the first distinct moments of address

towards the female spectator.3 In this moment, the text invites her to identify with the characters

on-screen via a presumably relatable quip about female sexuality, and knowingly exposes

femininity itself as an embodied performance young girls are trained to master.

Responding to this moment, Faculty of Horror podcast co-host and Executive Editor of

Rue Morgue Magazine, Andrea Subissati remarks, “I saw myself a lot [in the scene]. I remember

being in high school and I remember finally developing the breasts I was scared I would never

get and getting all this attention from boys and feeling a real sense of power in being able to get

that attention” (“Episode 3: Jennifer’s Body”). For Subissati, the film mirrors her own personal

experience of adolescence, which in turn helps her to relate to the action on-screen, an

accomplishment, she suggests, few other horror films have achieved (she offers The Craft [1996]

as another notable example). Although there is a difference between the theoretical spectator

constructed by the film and its reception amongst a varied audience, there nonetheless remains

an interplay between the two that cannot be discounted. Subissati’s comment demonstrates this

interplay and, in turn, establishes the film’s ability to successfully deploy a female mode of


Given Subissati’s comment about recognition and identification, perhaps the metaphor of

the mirror merits some reconsideration. As Lucy Bolton suggests of feminist film studies in

general, perhaps all that is needed is to rethink women’s relation to the mirror in the first place.

Inspired by Luce Irigaray’s interjection that “the mirror should support, not undermine

[woman’s] incarnation” (quoted in Bolton 39), Bolton proposes we challenge notions of physical

beauty, artifice and reflection by asking, for example, “how [women] respond to [their] reflected

3 For an analysis of postfeminism and Jennifer’s Body, see Martin Fradley’s “‘Hell is a teenage girl?’: Postfeminism and Contemporary Teen Horror” (2013).


image” instead of assuming an antagonistic relationship between the two (39). Subissati’s

comment regarding her identification with Jennifer provides a partial answer to Bolton’s

question. For Subissati, her viewing pleasure is enhanced by the film’s representation of female

sexuality as operating within the blurry boundaries between victimization and empowerment. As

she goes on to discuss, Jennifer’s quip regarding the eroticism of women’s breasts calls attention

to the ways in which young women simultaneously learn how to escape or at least combat

objectification by taking (back) ownership of their bodies. Subissati remembers it as a “fleeting

superficial power,” while also recalling what it feels like “to be empowered by that kind of

power” (“Episode 3: Jennifer’s Body”). In this respect, we may understand the moment of

mirrored reflection not as a foreclosure of possibility, but as an invitation to participate in a genre

that has historically isolated women, both on- and off-screen. Here, the introduction of lived

experience works to complicate the supposedly clear-cut power dynamics of the horror text and

create a more nuanced portrait of femininity that is conscious of the fraught relationship it holds

within the genre and within society at large.

“Someone’s Snack Pack”

As Jennifer’s Body demonstrates, this new wave of women’s horror cinema invites the

female spectator to share in the film’s critique of gender. The spectator’s constructed closeness

to the text is arguably a precondition of this cinema, and clearly part of this new wave’s

pleasurable offerings. Yet, this type of closeness would also seem to contradict previous

theorizations of female spectatorship, which treat closeness to the on-screen image as a problem.

Within the psychoanalytic heritage of feminist film studies, the female spectator cannot enter

into the same looking relations as her male counterpart because she lacks the necessary distance


between herself and the on-screen female character.4 In sharing the same gender location as the

on-screen object, the power of her gaze collapses, leaving her unable to disassociate herself from

the cinematic spectacle since she – woman – is the image. Because of this uncomfortable

proximity, the female spectator may resort to a cross-gender identification in adopting the

male/masculine looking position, a narcissistic response wherein she becomes her own object of

desire, which contrasts the masochistic response of over-identifying with the objectification on-

screen. While all three options limit the access of women’s viewing pleasure, Doane’s theory of

the masquerade offers a potentially useful alternative.

Borrowing from Joan Riviere, Doane describes the masquerade as the conscious

construction of femininity, such that femininity itself is exposed as artifice. Through an

exaggerated performance of “the accoutrements of femininity,” (Doane, “Film and the

Masquerade” 49) woman may use “her own body as a disguise” (Montrelay quoted in Doane,

“Film and the Masquerade” 49). By recognizing the image as a performance of woman – as a

conscious manipulation of codes and signifiers – the female spectator manufactures the required

distance between herself and the on-screen object in order to take pleasure in cinema. Although

originally conceptualized as a theory of spectatorship, Doane later clarifies that perhaps the

masquerade offers a more appropriate description of woman’s status as spectacle rather than as

spectator (see “Masquerade Reconsidered”). In this respect, masquerade becomes a more

suitable model for describing the action on-screen, which can be explained as “a woman

demonstrat[ing] the representation of a woman’s body” (Bovenschen quoted in Doane, The

Desire to Desire 181). Via the masquerade, womanliness itself becomes hyper-spectacularized,

such that what one witnesses on-screen is the reflexive construction of the fantasy of woman.

4 See Mulvey “Visual Pleasure”; Doane “Film and the Masquerade”.


Jennifer’s Body is, at its heart, a study on the masquerade, on the artifice of femininity

itself as performed in its most monstrous permutation by a hyper-femme demon. In exposing the

trappings of femininity, the film creates an altogether unique horror film character in Jennifer,

who, rather than skirting the lines of gender (as Clover’s Final Girl) or is made monstrous

because of it (as Creed’s monstrous feminine), actively manipulates her femininity in order to

survive. On the one hand, we may constitute this manoeuver as its own reaction against the

overwhelming masculinity of the horror genre, as a way of easily performing a non-threatening

intervention that works to hide its subversive underpinnings (e.g., working within convention to

destabilize it). On the other hand, in exposing femininity as artifice, the film importantly

constructs a tenable viewing position for the female horror spectator who is invited to share in

this disruption and its broader critique of gender.

The risk of this strategy, of course, is that it will be misread as an uncritical

objectification of Jennifer/Fox for the male gaze, as a number of reviews demonstrate. At the

time of release, Roger Ebert described the film as “Twilight for boys,” completely obfuscating

the female-centred audience both Kusama and Cody worked diligently to address in their

promotional interviews for the film (“Jennifer’s Body”). Peter Travers for Rolling Stone

Magazine put it even less eloquently, describing the movie as “Hot! Hot! Hot!” (“Jennifer’s

Body”), while Michael Sragow of The Baltimore Sun dismissed the plot entirely, suggesting “No

one is going to like this movie for its brain.” (“‘Jennifer’s Body’ is dodgy”). Focus was

especially pulled to Fox’s performance, which inspired a number of misogynistic reviews that

position the actor as a prop in an already shaky film. Joe Neumaier of The New York Daily News

suggested that “Fox merely needs to look either vacant or evil, which the Transformers boy-toy

does spookily well” (my own emphasis, “‘Jennifer’s Body’: Megan Fox”).


Again, it is Scott who recognizes the film’s tactics, predicting that “[t]he inevitable

critical sneering at Ms. Fox’s acting abilities will miss exactly this point. Her blunt, blank affect

belongs to the character, not the performer, and is part of the film’s calculated tease” (“Hell is

Other People”). Purposefully playing on Fox’s history as “always an object,” exemplified

perfectly by Neumaier’s descriptor “boy-toy,” Scott recognizes the knowingness in the casting

decision. As Stevens also points out, Fox has “never been given a chance before to be anything

but a body on-screen,” and the film exploits this history to its gain (“Jennifer’s Body”). This is

not then a failed performance by Fox, but rather a highly successful one in which persona and

function collapse, such that Fox herself becomes a self-aware performer of the feminine object.

What Fox is able to do is provide audiences with the idea of the feminine, one that is itself unreal

and merely a masquerade.

Indeed, the entire design of the film is meant to accentuate Fox’s ability as Jennifer to

perform the fantasy of available femininity. One notable example occurs when Jennifer, having

developed a taste for boys after turning into a demon, returns to school post feeding. In

comparison to the other students who are dressed in dark shades, Jennifer wears a cropped pink

sweater patterned with hearts, low-rise jeans, accompanying heart earrings and a bright shade of

pink lip gloss to accentuate her predatory mouth. Her high-femme performance is exaggerated

even further by the film’s camera work and editing, which centrally frames Jennifer and cuts the

sequence into several slow-motion shots. This short montage is a recognizable trope in the

lexicon of teen films, wherein the (newly-transformed) popular girl is given a slow-motion walk

down the hall to show off her appearance. In many ways, the hallway walk is the contemporary

equivalent of the performative ‘staircase sequence’ of previous woman’s pictures, when the

newly-remade heroine descends down the stairs for all to see. Identified by Doane as the “locus


of spectacularization,” the staircase, like the high school hallway, provides an architectural space

that organizes the spectator’s look towards the female object (The Desire to Desire 136).

However, while these conventions are typically played for a male gaze, Jennifer’s Body resists

this co-option through exaggeration and parody, and additionally by organizing its action

through Needy’s meta-look.

What allows the film to obfuscate the power of the male spectator and to re-establish the

action in relation to women audiences is its deployment of the female gaze, both via Kusama’s

camera and Needy’s organizing point-of-view. After the prologue, the film’s central action

begins at a high school assembly, where Needy is watching Jennifer perform a cheerleading

routine. In her voice-over, Needy establishes, “There’s Jennifer,” her narration serving as another

important element of the film’s address and emphasis on female subjectivity. Again, slow-

motion is used to draw attention to Jennifer, as the film cuts between Jennifer waving to her

friend in the stands and Needy responding with an affectionate grin. It is a small moment overall

but a neat visual summary of the film’s mechanics as a whole: here, Jennifer and her femininity

are put on display for a female onlooker, as both women are invited to share in the enjoyment of

the spectacle. If previous horror cinema was often hindered by the (over-)determining gaze of the

male filmmaker, even when displaced onto the film’s heroine, Jennifer’s Body demonstrates how

the meta-textual workings of the female filmmaker’s gaze – coupled with that of the on-screen

female character of Needy – allows for alternative looking relations in horror. Through these

alternative negotiations, the film is able to offer a self-aware critique of femininity that

emphasizes the work of genre in constructing women as pure spectacle.

As Katarzyna Paszkiewicz suggests, the film’s critique of gender is sustained by its

subversion of the monstrous-feminine trope, revealing monstrosity itself as a device much like


the masquerade (Genre 81;82). For Paszkiewicz, monstrosity and femininity operate in tandem

to expose each other as constructed conventions capable of being exploited for female pleasure.

Indeed, part of what makes Jennifer such an exaggerated spectacle of femininity is her status as a

monster; the more she feeds, the more beautiful and alluring she appears. However, rather than

reaffirm Creed’s innate alignment between femininity and monstrosity, the film is careful to

emphasize Jennifer’s monstrosity as a construction. Addressing this tactic, Paszkiewicz writes,

“Rather than being a monster, Jennifer becomes a monster” (Genre 82). Much in the same way

the film revels in the artifice of femininity, so too does it represent monstrosity as a performative

identity placed onto Jennifer.

If Jennifer’s Body is meant to signal a new iteration of horror cinema that plays with and

exposes the gendered conventions of the genre, it is only appropriate that the central catalyst of

the film’s narrative – the moment of Jennifer’s demonic possession and transformation into a

hyper-femme man-eater – should be a result of a divergence from ‘the rules.’ After researching

the Occult in her high school library, Needy explains to her boyfriend Chip that Jennifer’s newly

formed monstrous identity is a result of Low Shoulder’s botched attempt at a Satanic offering.

For the ritual to work, the band had to sacrifice a virgin and Jennifer, as she herself quips earlier

in the film, is not even “a backdoor virgin.” As Needy deduces through her research, Jennifer’s

monstrous origins can be traced to a singular moment of rupture from pre-established codes that

demand the ritual and the narrative be played out in a specific way. Defiance or failure to comply

by these rules is precisely what allows Jennifer to materialize as an altogether uncontainable

creature who threatens the safety and sanctity of formulaic conventions.5

5 The film goes on to poke fun of the dominance of masculinist narratives and conventions with enjoyable one-liners from Jennifer such as “PMS isn’t real Needy, it was invented by the boy-run media to make us seem like we’re


Here, Jennifer’s monstrosity is given a source of origin by way of a markedly violent

event, thereby disrupting any innate alignment between women and the abject, and repositioning

the monstrous as an effect of patriarchy (similar to compulsory femininity). Early in the film,

after being coerced by the lead singer of Low Shoulder to ride in their van, Jennifer is taken to a

remote location in the woods where the band can conduct their Satanic ritual. As Jennifer pleads

for her life, the frontman ignores her and continues into a diatribe about the difficulties of

‘making it’ as an indie band, asking Jennifer to understand their predicament. Acting as though

his hand has been forced, the band leader unsheathes a sacrificial blade and begins to frantically

stab Jennifer. In proper horror form, the underlining implication of sexual assault within the

scene is displaced onto an act of violence. As identified by Clover, violence and sex, while

relationally linked, act as substitutions for one another in horror (29). Here, Jennifer’s

victimization in the sacrificial ritual is undoubtedly meant to read as a gang rape.

Through this assault, Jennifer experiences the horror of being rendered into an object via

the trauma of sexual violence. Here, she is forcibly placed under the control of the male gaze,

which demands her sacrifice in order for its success (one can recall DeLauretis’ quip that “story

demands sadism” [134]). While the entire sequence is horrific, the most disturbing moment

occurs right before Jennifer is stabbed by the band leader. Pausing before he plunges the

ritualistic dagger into her body, the band leader croons, “Jenny Jenny who can I turn to, you give

me something I can hold on to. I know you’ll think I’m like the others before,” before eventually

building to an unsettling crescendo and singing, “Jenny don’t change your number, eight six

seven five three oh nine.” In this moment, Jennifer’s identity is erased and diminished to a

popular music reference, her objectification now complete.

crazy,” and “I forgot to read Hamlet. Is he gonna fuck his mom?” In the latter, the Oedipal drama collapses into the Shakespearean story, as the film irreverently treats male narratives as ‘all the same.’


So, as much as the film shows Jennifer as capable of exploiting her femininity and

monstrosity for her personal gain, it is equally invested in exposing the violent effects of

patriarchy that forcibly render women into performative, sexual objects. However, instead of

relishing the objectification of Jennifer as a ‘typical’ horror film might, and rather than treating

her status as object as ‘normal,’ the film instead presents the lingering effects of violence as

forcibly grotesque. Returning to Needy’s home after her assault, Jennifer confronts her friend in

the kitchen. The first time the audience sees Jennifer after the attack, she is only as a shadow

moving across the wall behind Needy; importantly, Jennifer initially appears as an impression of

a body that ought to be there, the image or trace of the person who used to be. When Jennifer

does reveal herself to Needy, it results in the most chilling visual of the film. Shot in a tight

medium-close up, a beaten Jennifer silently looks at her friend and smiles. As her lips curl up, we

see her bloodied mouth. The image is undoubtedly grotesque, and an antithesis to the portrait of

Jennifer as the hyper-feminine demon she will become. Having been rendered an object by the

band’s assault, Jennifer takes back her subjectivity in the moment of the smile. Soon to transform

into an avenging feminine fury, Jennifer retaliates against the patriarchal conditions that birthed

her monstrosity. By exploiting the very femininity that is culturally demanded of her, she regains

control of her body while also taking control of the bodies of male others through consumption.

However, the process of reclamation – whereby Jennifer uses her monstrosity to reclaim

her subjectivity – is ultimately presented in ambivalent terms. Towards the end of the film,

Jennifer sits in front of a mirror preparing for senior prom. Not having fed recently, she appears

emaciated and gaunt, her hair even beginning to fall out. As the camera moves closer to the

mirror, Jennifer begins to apply foundation, at first in smaller dabs and then smearing it across

her face. The result is a garish image of femininity that stands in stark contrast to the framed


picture of a smiling Jennifer that rests beside the mirror. As the twin images of Jennifer signal in

this sequence, monstrosity and beauty can be seen as two sides of the same patriarchal coin, with

artifice remaining contingent to both categorizations. Like the diegetic mirror in the sequence,

the more metaphorical ‘mirror’ image of the film itself rather than naturalize femininity (and

monstrosity as a condition of being a woman) instead exposes the cultural constructedness of

gender. Indeed, these mirrors reveal a potent image of the violent effects of patriarchy, which

mutilate the female form and render it an empty shell of itself. In contrast to the framed photo of

a plucky and cheerful Jennifer, the garish mirror image of a makeup-splattered monster shows a

Jennifer unable to perform the artifice of femininity others have come to expect and that she

herself has relied upon to feed. What was first a playful manipulation of the codes and signifiers

of femininity – both by character and by film alike – becomes in this moment an ultimate

breakdown of the female subject.

While this is not the last image the audience is given of Jennifer, it is certainly a powerful

one that suggests any attempt by Jennifer to regain her subjectivity after her assault has

ultimately failed. Fractured into twinned images – beauty and demon – Jennifer can no longer

materialize as a unified self; again, in this moment, she is rendered purely as a grotesque object

of spectacle. Is it enough then that the film is ‘in on’ this construction? Is it enough that this is

part of the film’s setup, which must show the damaging effects of patriarchal violence in order to

comment on it? It is this lingering sense of ambivalence, of irresolution, that prevails, as the film

ultimately proves troubling as much as it troubles.

Weekly Reading Response:

300 Words

Must Referencing These two: Screening – Jennifer’s Body

Reading: Vena – Dont Stand So Close to JenniferFile

This assignment asks you to respond rather than just to summarize what was covered that week. Maybe you wish our discussions/materials had gone further and you can think of other places you’d apply that week’s ideas. Maybe you disagreed with an interpretation of a film/concept and want to offer your own thoughts / counterexamples. Take it where you want

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