Considering how A24 won me over with X but disappointed me hard with Men, I’ve been looking forward to the company’s latest in the horror territory with Bodies Bodies Bodies, especially with the reactions out of SXSW. You watch the trailers to think this is more of a slasher that’ll have its characters in their young 20s survive an unexpected night filled with backstabbings and reveals. But while leaving the theater that afternoon, I won’t say it’s a straightforward horror movie on the horizon when Halina Reijn’s sophomore effort serves to make a blend of social satire and mystery I enjoyed a bit more than I thought.
Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova) have been a couple for a while now. One’s a former drug addict fresh out of her stint in rehab, and the other is part of a working-class family. They take a trip to a hurricane party at a huge family mansion hosted by Sophie’s best friend, David (Pete Davidson). Rounding out the guest of friends: Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), David’s aspiring actress girlfriend, Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), Sophie’s old flame, podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott), and her much older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) to have fun drinking and doing drugs to pass the time. To keep the fun going, the group decides to play “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” a murder in the dark game (akin to “Werewolf” or “Mafia”) that turns sour after a heated argument about who’s the killer, only to realize bodies are dropping to real. Someone amongst them is the true killer with the electricity and cell phone service out in the remote home.
If there were ever a movie where it could accurately depict Gen Z in today’s climate, I wouldn’t have expected Bodies Bodies Bodies to feel so true for someone in his mid20s. The combined forces of Reijn’s direction and Sarah DeLappe‘s sharp screenplay (based on the story by Kristen Roupenian) make for a spin on the whodunit genre that is the most unpredictable narrative I’ve seen in a while. I think it will heavily divide audiences (what A24 film hasn’t) who’ll might walk out of this letdown, believing it is straight-up horror. The trailers sold you on that idea, and while it doesn’t ignore the blood and kills, it’s more or less an intriguing mystery that had me curious what’s going to happen or who will get taken out. The confined space in the mansion felt like Clue with wealthy, self-obsessed young adults who can’t get the authorities during this hurricane. What makes or breaks your enjoyment is the time spent watching a group of people you don’t exactly want to hang around, let alone thinking someone is possibly a killer. They’re friends, but they say the trigger words of toxic or feeling attacked in the culture presented. Tensions rise when they actually play the game, revealing how they feel about each other. Seeing Reijn’s background in the theater, this felt like a play and watching the drama unfold.
Everybody acts like they’re the most remarkable person in the world and it’s clever how we’re obsessed with the persona we put on social media and treating others differently concerning class and friend dynamics. Even when somebody’s dead, they’ll still argue about the prettiest crap ever. This is a film where it knows it’s a satire when the dialogue comprises them using buzzwords of “gaslighting,” “triggered” or “feeling attacked.” Nobody even knew Sophie was coming, let alone bring someone they don’t know since they think she ghosted them entirely. As a dark comedy, it got some laughs from me and I probably reacted more than the other four people in the theater. And while it wasn’t aiming to be particularly scary, there’s some tremendous amount of tension brimming whenever someone is walking in the dark, wondering if they’re being followed.
The cast works wonders playing off each other in acting like real people. Amandla Stenberg continues to impress me with each role she’s given. Maria Bakalova finally gets to do a worthy performance after her Oscar-nominated work in Borat 2, where she’s the most likable character the audiences will relate to the most in piecing together what she’s all about. Stenberg and Bakalova’s chemistry is fantastic. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Rachel Sennott as the earnest Alice, as she comes out more in the last half in one of my favorite comedic performances of the year. Many talked about her last year from Shiva Baby, and it looks like I might need to check it out now. I wasn’t familiar with Myha’la Herrold and Chase Sui Wonders, but they were equally great as Jordan and Emma. Lee Pace was having a blast as Greg and Pete Davidson proved he might have a promising film career if a nice screenplay was in front of him. He also had a pretty funny Cast Away joke.
For 95 minutes, it has a few scenes that go on a bit long, but it can keep your attention that wasn’t just a simple horror-comedy thriller to pass up. What it has to say about today’s culture won’t appeal to everyone that’s a part of the demographic, yet credit Reiljn for proving a closer look that comes out of nowhere. As it ended, I wasn’t entirely sure if I liked how it wrapped up. But I kind of thought about what came before, in what it was trying to say. For that, it might’ve made me appreciate this more.
Overall, Bodies Bodies Bodies wasn’t the typical Gen Z slasher they marketed. But it is a darkly funny, unpredictable, and provocative spin on the whodunnit sub-genre. I expected it to be fun, and while I didn’t initially love it, it was accomplished with a fresh sense of direction and a terrific ensemble at hand—worth recommending.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 95 Minutes. Rating: Rated R for violence, bloody images, drug use, sexual references and pervasive language. Company: A24.