Hell is a Teenage Girl

To each their own is a mantra to which anyone involved in media fandom really has to subscribe if they want to get along with others. I wasn’t all that jazzed about Juno when I saw it. I don’t get the appeal. However, Jennifer’s Body, by the same writer, blew my mind. If you ask a lot of people, Jennifer’s Body is about Megan Fox’s tits. I have to wonder if these people have actually watched the film.

Until I saw JB, my favorite horror film had to be Ginger Snaps, which follows two grim sisters as the older sister gets “the curse” in more ways than one; both involving blood and one involving fur and irrevocable transformation into a monstrous wolf. The clear metaphor is between lycanthropy and puberty, a witness to the horror of a forced transformation that may not be desired: "the monstrous threat is not simply external but erupts from within the human body, and so challenges the distinction between self and other, inside and outside" (Jancovich 6). Horror can do wonderfully twisted things with the body.

JB is similarly a “body horror” film that engages themes of rape, eating disorders, body image, and both the acrimony and attraction between girls. The transformation of Jennifer, the one that takes her soul, is not paralleled with any kind of natural biological process, and the female body is not implicated as inherently monstrous, nor is sexuality the evil that damns her (her best friend Needy is also sexually active). No, the horror is what happens to her body, and what that does to what remains of her afterward. She is taken into a van (pithily referred to as an ’89 Rapist) by a group of guys who take her out into the woods and sacrifice her body to Satan with a long phallic knife, mocking her in song as they do so.

So violated, all of Jennifer’s worst traits, and her beauty, are intensely magnified. We watch in fascination and disgust as she eats a whole chicken and vomits it onto the floor along with black demon puke. She repeats more forcefully the violence we saw against Needy from a few scenes before and verbally threatens her. She consumes boys for her pleasure, because their attentions keep her strong, and because she is in deep competition with Needy, who is both her best friend and object of desire.

Some have been critical of the scene in which Jennifer and Needy kiss, as though titillation could be the only reason these two characters might be pressing their bodies together. However, it was obvious to me, and to the writer Diablo Cody if you listened to the extras, that maybe choosing to just be titillated, and not a little horrified, while Needy is being kissed by a cannibal, might be on the audience. We find out that Jennifer and Needy played boyfriend/girlfriend games for years, and while Jennifer actively preys upon the boys around Needy, she says of her feeding habits, "I go both ways." The queer reading here is hardly a stretch, but it is a reading complicated by the ways that girls love and hate one another, put in competition rather than alliance by forces outside of their control, and at the age of these characters, perhaps their understanding.

It’s difficult to say that a film about rape, one that shows the destruction of a young woman that turns her into a violent monster, is empowering. However, Jennifer is not the lead character, who can succeed. Mostly because the window to save her closed early in the film when she dies. Instead, Needy, who we first glimpse unfairly confined in a mental institution, is our hero. Needy is the one who gains power without being exploited, the one who gains it not through being violated, but through taking up revenge for her fallen boyfriend, and then for her fallen best friend and love.

“Hell is a teenage girl,” Needy says at the beginning of the film.

Hell is what girls try to survive in this deeply misogynistic culture that would make heroes out of Jennifer’s murderers.

Hell is what Needy gives back to them.

With their own phallic knife.

I kind of love this film and everything it chooses to be.

 

Jancovich, Mark. Rational Fears: American Horror in the 1950s. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1996.

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