“When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal – you’re finished!” – William Holden, The Wild Bunch
If you pressed Needy Lesnicki about her bestie Jennifer, she would ultimately admit that their friendship was woefully one-sided. Jennifer had the looks, the style, got all the boy attention… and at best, Needy got closer to that world as Jennifer’s sidekick than she would have left to her own devices. But Needy would initially insist that she had genuine good memories and experiences with her, and Jennifer often confided in her all the uncomfortable thoughts that she wouldn’t want their small school universe to know about. And maybe she wouldn’t be able to articulate it properly, being a teenager, but Needy probably understood that a girl like Jennifer who had it together in public could still be a mess in private, and that being there for her filled a void that sex and popularity couldn’t. Needy thought she was the candle’s worth of hope in Jennifer’s otherwise dark trajectory.
“It’s a hell of a thing, killin’ a man. You take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.” – Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven
And then came that terrible night with Low Shoulder, that band that all the sensitive-presenting frat boys put on the stereo to coerce girls already past the point of informed consent into bed. A band that knew their bland mediocrity could only get them so far with making money and wooing women, and were ready to pact with Satan to get over the hump. And after their doomed concert in Devil’s Kettle, a calamity that itself may well have been part of the plan to build their legend, when Jennifer crossed their path, they thought they found a disposable vessel to seal their bargain. They hadn’t contemplated that a small town girl could already be sexually astute. In effect, they did far worse than just murder her. They violated a vain but not-yet-corrupted girl, and by bonding her with the Prince of Empty Promises, exponentially amplified all her bad traits and locked her into a permanent state of predatory menace, with no conscience and almost impervious to pain or injury.
“My heart bleeds for him, as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he’s irredeemable.” – William L. Petersen, Manhunter
Needy initially wasn’t privy to the gory details behind the change in Jennifer’s behavior. Though really, barfing up all that oobleck in her kitchen should have been the first clue. And yet, for a while, she still tries to be Jennifer’s Jiminy Cricket, to remain her confidante and attempt some form of harm reduction, while, as the increasing decimation of male classmates continues, she attempts to warn people that Jennifer is a danger that must be addressed. Conversely, Jennifer does all but abandon Needy, and she does become an animal, feeding herself on Needy’s clothes, then her man, and ultimately Needy herself, until she finally summons the strength to end this otherworldly power grab. All the while, the adults are oblivious, the boys are incredulous. There’s no support system for this sort of crisis. It’s a lonesome, frightening thing to kill a friendship.
“I just don’t want to do it anymore… Be your friend… you’ll be my friend when you’re not in trouble.
See, I don’t want you to be my friend just when there’s nobody else around… You don’t know who I am when other people are around. I spoke to you maybe five times since you met Dave Resnick. I introduced you, I got you the job and now I can’t get you on the phone… you don’t even say hello to me.
I walk into that restaurant, you’re sitting with Dave Resnick and Sid Fine and I gotta say hello to you three times and you don’t answer and when I walk away I hear you say, ‘Jesus Christ! Call that guy back. I forgot to give him the order.’…You call me ‘The Echo.’ And you tell everybody that I have to say everything twice because I got a tunnel in my head. The second time is The Echo… You make me out a joke to Resnick. Just like you made me out a joke to that girl… And I’d do anything for you. Anything. And unless you’re sick or in trouble, you don’t even know I’m alive. And now look what you did. Now you called me, now I came, and look what you did, and for no reason. No fuckin’ reason! Bullshit! Go find yourself another friend!” – Peter Falk, Mikey and Nicky
Jennifer’s Body vividly employs the imagery of conventional horror films – blood, viscera, monstrosity, and death – to explore a more personal horror, that of watching the decline of someone you cared about, of having to come to the grim realization they really did not care about your welfare in return, and of facing an uncertain future alone after cutting out the most influential person in your life. Each day the self-help substrata of social media is filled with think pieces on how and why to end toxic relationships, indicating that this is a scary situation more common than the average hooded-and-black-gloved intruder with an axe. The instinct to stick it out with a longtime friend, even in the face of horrible behavior, hoping to unlock and nurture what is still left of their soul, is equally motivated in the fear of admitting failure as it is in having faith in the otherwise impossible. It is a recurrent theme in the screenplays of Diablo Cody, manifested in the sympathetic receptions to ersatz homewrecker Mavis Gary in Young Adult and selfish rocker Ricki Rendazzo in Ricki and the Flash, and can even be argued for in her uncredited rewrite for Fede Álvarez & Rodo Sayagues’ adaptation of Evil Dead, which secedes from the franchise’s previous canon by allowing its first possession victim and primary antagonist to be brought back from the brink and become a third-act hero. But this time, all that’s left is the nuclear option.
“I didn’t get along with Lindsay Lohan on ‘Confessions Of A Teenage Drama Queen’, but you have to consider that we were 16-year-old girls. I haven’t seen Lindsay since then, but I imagine she’s grown and become a different person. I know I have.” – Megan Fox, junket interview
There is another deep horror suggested by Fox’s quote that comes into play in this story as well, the notion of being trapped and defined by your worst aspects. Needy’s real name is Anita, yet a childhood nickname no doubt tossed off in blithe cruelty has stuck with her, telling anyone within earshot she has been marked as the eternal sidekick, the dependent, the one requiring an alpha. But if anything, Jennifer has been the one to need her as the one person who she can let down the confident facade to in private. And because of the evil actions of a band of men who want the world to believe they’re heartfelt and attuned to women, Jennifer, still just a teenager with the possibility of experience and wisdom ahead of her, is not even allowed a martyr’s death like any other Satanic sacrifice, but left behind to spend what remaining life she has without any chance of evolution left, the literal personification of every boys’ casually insensitive observation of a bad ex-girlfriend. And it may be what still puts some hesitation in Needy’s path to dispatching Jennifer’s rampage; she doesn’t want to be immortalized as a pushover, but she wouldn’t want her friend, no matter their personal beefs, to be immortalized as a demon either.
“When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.” – Humphrey Bogart, The Maltese Falcon
After the mayhem has taken place, and their friendship is decisively over, it’s not just a matter of having a last story filip to present Needy now manifesting some of the strength of character and resistance to pain that Jennifer had for so long. Teenage friendships carry an intensity borne from being enamored of the other’s qualities you wish you had yourself. Thus, ironically, the figurative and literal wound Needy sustained in their final fight is the one beneficial gift Jennifer ever gave her, because now she can assert herself and do the things she felt too cowed to attempt previously in her presence. And, always being the better friend, Needy stays loyal to Jennifer’s memory by hunting down the treacherous parties that caused her damnation in the first place…
“Hell is a teenage girl.” – Jennifer’s Body opening title card