Horror and women have a somewhat complicated history. On the one hand, Final Girls are a staple of the genre, and films that use horror as a vehicle for exploring femininity have been around for a long time carrie But while women are often the focus of these films, there are always issues with their characterization, treatment, and framing. It’s very easy to cross the line between appalling and alluring if you don’t think critically. And that’s why the female gaze has been such a prominent topic of discussion in film for decades.
The female gaze, as the name suggests, tries to show us the world through a literal female gaze. This means that not only what we see is important, but what we and the characters feel. It’s an empathic device that tries to humanize everyone in the frame, and we see that gaze being doubly staged, both by what the camera shows us and what the character is doing. The female gaze attempts to portray women not as objects of desire but as fully realized characters with desires of their own. In contrast to the male gaze, the female gaze is not an objectifying but a humanizing force.
Horror as a genre seems to have a harder time deviating from the female gaze, probably because so much tension is built on consciously objectifying themes. We are often meant to enjoy violence as much as we fear it, and this causes us to distance ourselves from the subject matter in the frame and associate it more with monster-devouring. But over time, more and more filmmakers managed to create horror that uses the female gaze to great effect. One of the most notable but often overlooked pieces of feminist horror is the 2009 film Jennifer’s body directed by Karen Kusama.
What is Jennifer’s body about?
Jennifer’s body is the story of best friends Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) and Needy Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) Head to head after a demonic possession. At the beginning of the film, Jennifer is kidnapped by a band who are trying to use her as a human sacrifice to ensure the popularity of their music. However, things don’t go as planned and instead of dying, Jennifer comes back not correct. She comes back to town covered in blood and hungry for human flesh. As Needy tries to figure out what happened to her, she realizes that she may be the only one who can stop Jennifer’s killing spree. From here, it’s pretty clear to extrapolate how the film’s themes intertwine with femininity. Jennifer is always cast to play the perfect girl who eventually breaks up and snaps back in the face of male violence, and Needy lusts and empathizes with her friend, even to her detriment, but does what she feels needs to be done . This story is particularly suited to the female gaze, as the struggle and horror of this film are intrinsically linked to femininity from a female point of view. We watch ominously as we become monsters ourselves, consumed.
Its marketing suggested that this film was aimed at the male gaze
From initial marketing, one would think this film was aimed at the male gaze. Shots of Megan Fox looking beautiful and stern were the main promotion for the film, but in truth, even in the context of the film, these moments don’t aim to be objectifying. There are times when the camera lingers on Megan Fox making a spectacle of her, but even here we can see traces of the female gaze. She’s not framed in enticing close-ups, but often in wide-angle shots where she dominates the frame, rather than staring at her, we instead stare at her in a sort of awe or horror. A scene in which she swims in a lake was not shot in soft close-ups and sexy angles, but was painted in muted colors and keeps Jennifer herself as the dominant force in the frame. Instead of encouraging a grin, we watch with some trepidation, watching her move like something unnatural. Or similarly, the iconic shot of her walking down the hall in her pink sweatshirt instead of being the object of desire gives her an air of intimidation. She’s a bright and dominant force in the picture, almost too perfect, and that’s what the film wants from her. This is the image that Jennifer consciously constructs. We see the toll of that achievement in the scene where she puts on her makeup while crying, a moment that pulls back the mask and makes her human even if she’s been made into something seemingly untouchable. Even as she becomes this monster, there’s something girly about her, and she uses that perceived vulnerability to her advantage.
Through Needy we find empathy for Jennifer
Needy is our vessel for the female gaze. We see the story through their eyes and with their storytelling. An inferior film might have used this to pit “good” girl Needy against “bad” girl Jennifer, but the film’s cinematic language never does. We see Jennifer the way Needy does, and that not only gives us instant empathy for Jennifer, but also affection for her. Having Needy as our point of view does the critical work by adjusting to looking with her rather than looking at her. We sympathize most with her as the main character, and when she extends that sympathy and concern to Jennifer, so do we. she is not only a monster, and we see this in her affection for Needy and an underlying poignancy that shows her anger, because what happened to her will not be forgotten. We see her alternately human and brute when Needy does it. We wish for Jennifer what Needy wants from her. Therefore, even in the kissing scene between Needy and Jennifer, we don’t feel the same lewd feeling as under the male gaze, we sympathetically experience Needy’s own desires and see them play out as such. The female perspective is not a desexualized perspective, but one that relies on mutual desire instead of pure voyeurism. The scene is only enticing because it is enticing to the characters.
Jennifer’s body is a film that wouldn’t do as well without the female gaze. The film’s message is so rooted in femininity and feminism that not shooting with an eye toward agency and empathy would completely defeat the film’s message. This film has been underrated for so long and its attention to the female gaze and overall feminist message has absolutely something to do with it. The film unsettles the way we’re used to engaging with female characters, or actually becoming familiar with Megan Fox. The female gaze tries to provoke empathy for its subject. With this, we see female characters not just as objects of desire, but as agents of their own will, moving within the story. Jennifer’s body wants us to know that our monster was made by humans and is still human in many ways. By creating the film in this light, we are able to see ourselves as Jennifer and needy, monster and victim, equally constrained and liberated by the eyes that are fixed on us. Although the movie is called Jennifer’s body the body is hardly the crucial part, but how we deal with it. Do we choose to view Jennifer (like so many) for her body alone, or do we look with a more sophisticated female gaze?
https://collider.com/jennifers-body-female-gaze-horror-explained/ How Jennifer’s Body Unsettles the Way We View Female Characters