Reeder’s Movie Reviews: Bodies Bodies Bodies

Bodies Bodies Bodies
(A24 2022)

Eight twenty-somethings gather at a mansion for a “hurricane party.” After some awkward introductions, they begin indulging in drugs and alcohol. With inhibitions fading and the storm now raging, they decide to play “Body Body,” the murder-in-the-dark game. Only in this case, an actual body count ensues. There you have the premise for the new horror-comedy film from Dutch actor-turned-director Halina Reijn (Black Book, Instinct).

While the picture hardly elevates the genre, it certainly puts a distinctive spin on it. The characters are well defined; the direction is crisp and creative; and the script is dripping with irony and satire. Kudos as well to Richard Vreeland, who uses the professional name Disasterpeace, for his appropriately unsettling score.

The cast features a bevy of Gen-Z actors enjoying early career success. Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games, The Hate U Give) plays Sophie, a wealthy and assertive young woman in a relationship with Bee, a wary, working-class emigré from Eastern Europe–a role comfortably inhabited by Maria Bakalova (an Oscar nominee for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm). The plot features two other couples: David, whose family owns the home (Pete Davidson, Saturday Night Live), and Emma (Chase Sui Wonders, Generation), along with the podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott, Shiva Baby) and her significantly older veteran-boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace, The Hobbit, Pushing Daisies). Myha’la Herrold (Industry) portrays Jordan, and Connor O’Malley (Late Night with Seth Meyers) rounds out the ensemble as Max, whose brief appearances frame the story. 

The celebrity status of these performers, especially but not exclusively among younger audiences, has an important function in the movie. As Alice insists, we have an “attention economy.” In other words, people ultimately succeed when they can resonate with the general public, preferably through social media. Not surprisingly, the game that gives Bodies its structure also serves as a vehicle for bringing out the sharp edges in these characters’ private lives. The death of one of the attendees near the start of the film plunges the rest of them into a spiral of suspicion, assumption and revelation that does real-world damage, much of it fatal.

The script by first-time screenwriter Sarah DeLappe (from a story by Kristen Roupenian) takes a while to find its rhythm, but when it does, it betrays a cohesive structure and a wealth of irony, alternatively savage and silly. As its centerpiece, it has a seriously nasty fight among four of the young women, as they variously accuse each other of drug addiction, hypocrisy and unfaithfulness. Suddenly a gun and a cellphone take center stage. Indeed, as the story becomes more intense and the number of victims increases, you realize that the female characters are driving this plot. The men are not entirely unimportant–the absurdly amusing climax to the movie dispels that notion–but the momentum comes from the women. As they discover, insecurities and rivalries can be pretty horrific. And Bee, as the outsider, emerges as the protagonist–the person who can most appreciate the corroding power of wealth. 

The director, Halina Reijn, and her Dutch cinematographer, Jasper Wolf, make the most of a deliberately claustrophobic setting. Bodies trots out many classic horror tropes (a dark and stormy night, a house without electricity, gotcha moments), but the framing and lighting impart a consistently atmospheric tone that serves the story well. With 70 percent of it taking place in darkness, iPhone flashlights aid the partiers and the audience alike.

Bodies Bodies Bodies had a modest budget, and Reijn had a desire to bend the rules with her first American-made feature. She examined Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), that classic study in staging and psychological horror directed by the late Mike Nichols. She asked her cast to read Chekhov. Seriously. She wanted to transform the clichés of the typical slasher film into a “cocktail” of both funny and serious ingredients. Her movie may focus on one particular generation–surely they will recognize certain qualities of themselves on screen–yet its entertainment value defies age. Bodies is a bloody little gem.

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