Ten years after it flopped in theatres, Jennifer's Body - the horror-comedy about a man-eating high school student played by Megan Fox - is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. The film, which starred Fox at the height of her Transformers fame, and created by powerhouse duo Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody, was a critical and commercial bomb back in 2009. A decade later, it's a cult classic.
When the film debuted in September 2009, Jennifer's Body's reviews from predominantly older white male critics were unkind to the teen-oriented, female-fronted horror comedy to the tune of 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The marketing of the film was mistakenly directed at heterosexual teen boys: the poster focused on Fox's sex appeal with an image of the starlet in a cheerleading uniform and the trailer played up its titillating qualities with a lesbian-baiting kiss between the female leads. The actual film is far more acerbic, witty and feminist, but audiences mostly stayed away; and those who did pay for a ticket tended to be put-off by Cody's unconventional dialogue. The film limped to a $16 million finish, barely matching its production budget. So how did the film go from zero to hero?
Jennifer's Body tells the story of brash and beautiful Jennifer and her co-dependent friendship with Needy (Amanda Seyfried), a quiet, more bookish girl. Their lives are forever changed when they attend a Low Shoulder concert, an indie rock band whose members are prepared to perform a human sacrifice in order to achieve fame. Mistakenly believing that Jennifer is a virgin, the girl instead becomes a literal man-eating succubus whose reign of terror can only be stopped by the love of her best friend.
Many of the criticisms that were originally leveled at Jennifer's Body - the awkward dialogue, the lack of scares, and the underdeveloped male characters - have been reappraised as strengths of the film. Due in part to the marketing, critics and audiences alike had unrealistic expectations of what the film should be (not what it actually was). Cody's spit-fire dialogue remains an acquired taste, but the mean-spirited/snappy language is now far more commonplace on many teen-oriented television shows; the questionable marketing of it as a straight horror film has been disavowed and it's now firmly understood as a horror comedy; and the paper-thin male characters is now understood as a key component of the film's feminist agenda (men are unimportant because the film is entirely about Needy and Jennifer). The elements that didn't work in 2009 have become its greatest assets in 2019.
The dialogue around the film now involves Kusama, Cody and Fox, who had previously all remained relatively quiet on Jennifer's Body until a recent slate of interviews where they discussed the impact of the failure and their treatment by Hollywood afterward. Not only do the women feel that the studio went directly go against their wishes with the marketing, but Cody has admitted to being attacked on Twitter by critics, while Fox was both sexualized and body shamed in the media. Kusama, meanwhile, was unable to find directorial work and wound up turning to Gamechanger to finance her next film The Invitation, a full six years later.
There has also been a shift in the fabric of film criticism in the last decade. Rotten Tomatoes has made a deliberate attempt to diversify its roster of film critics to include more women and people of color, as well as more the number of genre reviewers who are more attuned to the delights offered by horror films. Considering who Jennifer's Body was intended for (horror fans, but more specifically teen girls), the rise of diverse voices online, including on social media, has helped the film's champions voice their opinions to the masses. In a post #MeToo world, Jennifer's Body also reads very differently: it's a remarkably empowering film about a strong woman with agency who murders stupid, horny men, which is another selling feature for feminist horror fans.
One final factor in the resurgence of Jennifer's Body has been its adoption by the LGBTQ community, who have reclaimed the film as a seminal piece of queer horror. The proliferation of queer-friendly genre texts in the last few years, including a similar canonization of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (epitomized by Mark Patton's new documentary Scream Queen), means that texts like Jennifer's Body are being rightfully rediscovered and celebrated by a brand new audience.
The fact is that Jennifer's Body was never the creative failure that it was framed as back in 2009. The reality is that the film was ahead of its time and audiences have only now caught up to its genius.