review: bodies bodies bodies
Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakaolva, Chase Sui Wonders, and Rachel Sennott in "Bodies Bodies Bodies" (2022)
How well can you trust the company you keep? That is the question posed by Halina Reijn’s horror-comedy, “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” a blood-soaked satirical blend of murder mystery and fragile Gen Z friendships. Written by playwright Sarah DeLappe, and based on a story by author Kristen Roupenian, the entertaining A24-produced slasher has an endgame with a twist. The film takes place in one setting, a remote family mansion in upstate New York, where a group of rich twenty-something friends gather for a hurricane party. A storm is on the horizon, and tensions within the group are about to make impact like crashing waves. When an ice-breaker drinking game leads to an actual murder, the friends must identify the killer among a group where everyone is a suspect. Ah, the classic “party gone wrong,” a familiar trope in the horror genre designed to disrupt safe spaces. There are some parties where you do not want to be a guest at. But sometimes horror films are best enjoyed with the company you keep, especially a wickedly fun experience like “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” which deploys a good ensemble as the driving force for its story. Reijn’s film is stacked with a brilliant cast — from the tremendous comedic timing of Rachel Sennott, and the mysterious effervescence of Amandla Stenberg, to the appealing naivety of Lee Pace. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” shape shifts around the company it keeps, and mutates into a sharp narrative about vulnerable relationships in a digital-obsessed age.
The ‘bodies bodies bodies’ game of “killer” and “victims” playing in darkness is an effective framework for a film with silent dynamics at play. When the lights are out, the killer taps other players, who must pretend to play dead on the spot. Once the lights are turned on, the surviving players vote on who the killer is. But “Bodies Bodies Bodies” goes beyond a simplified whodunnit. The film is not just about the killer’s identity, but asks where the killer resides from a big picture. Is an outside threat slashing their way in, or is the call coming from inside the house? A literal storm may be raging, but what’s brewing behind closed doors is far scarier. Sarah DeLappe’s screenplay pushes characters to the edge of their respective breaking points. All the thoughts left unsaid between them are coaxed out through backstabbing, resentment, jealousy, paranoia, and passive aggression. Staring fear in the face, they reveal dark sides of themselves to one another that they may not have intended to. As more bodies fall, the film leans more into the complicated dynamics at play between the characters and offers something else to chew on, beyond simply escaping from a house of horrors. The film constantly makes you second-guess the characters’ intentions and convictions. The idea of everyone being a suspect in a deeply satirical setting has been done before, expertly in films such as the “Scream” franchise. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” feels fresh and twists in all the right places.
DeLappe’s sparkling script, Rejn’s energetic direction, and a fabulous cast captures lightning in a bottle. While questionable on whether this will stand the test of time, the film has a lot of fun conveying Gen Z social relevance and privilege, sprinkled with buzz words and a strong meta self-awareness. The characters are well defined, and the actors do a tremendous job fleshing them out. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” has one of this year’s best casts — naturally, some (Rachel Sennott, Lee Pace, Myha’la Herrold) shine brighter, but all of the actors bring a burst of charisma here. The film zones in on Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalova who play Sophie and Bee, a new couple visiting Sophie’s friends at a luxurious mansion. Pete Davidson plays the chaotic house party host, and Chase Sui Wonders plays an aspiring actor in a toxic relationship with him. Myha’la Herrold plays the tough passive-aggressive friend, and Lee Pace plays the goofy intimidating older guy of the group. Then there’s Rachel Sennott, who absolutely runs away with this film as self-obsessed Alice, who loves having a good time and has a podcast. She brings levity to the more tense situations with dazzling spirit, and in equal measure, tangible panic in the face of immediate danger. One can’t help but wonder just how much of Alice’s lines are improvised by Sennott herself. Her comedic timing and pitch-perfect delivery shine brighter than her character's glow-stick jewelry.
The cast share an entertaining push-pull dynamic that pulls you into the characters’ emotional, problematic mayhem. Every moment of paranoia and distrust feels high-stakes. The friend group’s crumbling relationships become the focal point in a setting of murderous bloodshed. Reijn brings an up-close-and-personal quality to her direction. She achieves an impressive feat where you feel trapped in the stormy mansion alongside the characters, as opposed to being unpleasantly stuck with them. While the friends are subjects of deep satire and mockery, they are not left for dead. The screenplay is full of strong characterization and keeps an enlightening thread open for each of the characters. The actors bring out interesting layers and are complemented by Reijn’s remarkable empathy, never veering into Gen Z caricatures but instead holding a mirror to the universality of wanting to belong. The balance of generational specificity and ubiquitous themes speaks to a grounded, relatable sensation. Looming in the darkened corners of the remote mansion is a deep-down desire to be part of something. Proving to be as good as the company it keeps, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is an energetic slasher that blends humorous satire with sincerity.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” arrives in U.S. theaters on August 5 and Canadian theaters on August 12.