A film review by Craig J. Koban November 3, 2022

BODIES BODIES BODIES j
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2022, R, 95 mins

Amandla Stenberg as Sophie  /  Maria Bakalova as Bee  /  Myha'la Herrold as Jordan  /  Chase Sui Wonders as Emma  /  Rachel Sennott as Alice  /  Lee Pace as Greg  /  Pete Davidson as David  /  Conner O'Malley as Max

Directed by Halina Reijn  /  Written by Sarah DeLappe

BODIES BODIES BODIES has been frequently described as a "Gen Z horror movie."  

That's sort of right, but not really entirely in tune with its marketing, which seemed to go out of its way to label it as a slasher horror flick.  There are elements of that genre in director Halina Reijin's English language feature film debut, to be sure, but this avant-garde indie veteran seems more in tune with making this film more of an Agatha Christie whodunit and a psychological study of friendship circles and how those very fragile bonds can come easily undone under tragic circumstances.  

That, and BODIES BODIES BODIES also operates as a young adult soap opera featuring many characters that, to the film's detriment, are not entirely likeable in most regards.  This has the negative impact of stunting my emotional investment in the film.  Since I simply didn't care about any of these doomed (and disgustingly rich and mostly self-serving) souls I felt little as they're seemingly picked off one at a time by an unknown entity.  BODIES BODIES BODIES has an intriguing setup as a single location nerve wracker, but it's too empty minded about its themes and isn't as deep as it thinks it is with these Gen Z personas.   

And the longer the film progresses the more insufferable these people become.  Maybe that's the point here.  I dunno.  The introductory moments of the story barely hint at the darker turns that it takes, which is a testament to Reijin's skills in the exploratory stages.  There's a massive hurricane that's about to strike a remote mansion in the middle of nowhere, which will be the meeting ground for the aforementioned disgustingly rich and self serving friends that hope to engage in an alcohol and drug infused weekend of hedonistic pleasures.  Arriving quite late to the proceedings are Sophie (Amanda Stenberg) and her girlfriend Bee (BORAT 2's wonderful Maria Bakalova, whose impressive comedic talents are kind of squandered here), but the promise of a lit weekend keeps them focused.  The party has already started in full swing when they arrive and we are then introduced to the other friends, comprised of David (Pete Davidson), Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), Jordan (Myha'la Herrold), Alice (Rachel Sennott, who annoying says "OH MY GAWD!" so much in this film that I wanted to hurl something at the screen) and her much older fortysomething boyfriend Greg (a nearly unrecognizable Lee Pace).  Even though a massive storm is about to it, this high and drunk ensemble does not let it bring down their shared euphoria.   

Then the power goes out...and this is just the beginning of the you-know-what hitting the proverbial fan for everyone. 

 

 

Before I get too carried away with that, it should be noted that these friends begin playing a murder mystery party game at the mansion to kill time, and one that involves one shadowy "killer" that's picking off the partiers one at a time.  Everyone is predictably dialed in and on edge, but this all turns to absolute terrified panic when it does appear that one of these friends is actually found dead and the victim of foul play.  Of course, everyone that's still alive and not pushing up daisies begins to formulate their own theories about who's the real culprit.  Is it the older and creepily soft spoken outsider in David?  Is it his underage girlfriend in Alice, who always seems to be weirdly twitchy?  Or maybe it's one of the newcomers that arrived late to the mansion?  Elements of BODIES BODIES BODIES kind of reminded me of THE THING in the ways that paranoia starts to grip all of these people and accusations begin to be wildly flung at anyone who's perceived to be the murderer.  To complicate matters ever further - and in tune with the film's title - more dead bodies begin to sinisterly turn up, which only ratchets up the fear in the remaining survivors even further.  Being doped up AF certainly doesn't help their shared predicament any further.  This is a double edged powder keg of a hellish situation that's snowballing down by the minute.

It's obvious that the Agatha Christie parallels in BODIES BODIES BODIES is pretty pronounced throughout, but with players that speak in aggressive generation appropriate slang that seems born in the digital and social media heavy age.  Thankfully, Reijin's film is not about the sick and sensationalistic thrills of murder and bloodshed, but rather is more in tune with examining these various personalities and how the power and loyalty dynamics within them are shattered, leading to BFFs turning on each other at the drop of a dime (and without much in the way of tangible proof of guilt being discovered).  I appreciated that cerebral subtext to the film, not to mention that Reijin makes a good looking film to boot that really drums up nail biting suspense in the way she plays with the established darkness of the gigantic mansion where the supposed killer has so many vantage points to hide and spring out without mercy or notice.  Cinematographer Jasper Wolf has a field day shooting the impressively ominous interiors of the home, but he also navigates his lens through many a dreary claustrophobic corridors, hallways, nooks and crannies of the house, which further elevates the film's fairly decent fright factor.  Like good psychological horror efforts, BODIES BODIES BODIES works best by what we (and the characters) can't see versus what's in the frame.   

But - ahem! - OH MY GAWD are the characters that inhabit this carnival of mystery horror ever grating.  I say this with the potential of coming off as an ol' pushing fifty fossil, but sitting through BODIES BODIES BODIES and having to endure these frankly intellectually vacant partiers scream at each other with inarticulate vocabularies and trying to prove their respective detective skills is either supposed to be pathetically funny or increasingly irritating...or a combination of both.  I don't have a problem with dislikeable characters, per se, in films, and there are many great films involving toxic social monsters.  These characters, however, are so petty and unpleasant and seem to constantly enunciate with non-stop online digital world lingo that they became less fully realized human beings in a terrible situation and more like disposable props being served up for the potential slaughter to come.  Do actual young adults speak like this?  Absolutely, but even some of the would-be peppy and colorful topical language and referencing here seems obnoxiously obvious and unnatural at times; it's like the film was penned by Diablo Cody, minus the scathing wit.  Plus, these are all annoyingly affluent people too, which, as mentioned, makes our rooting interest in any of them living all the more muted.  Screenwriter Sarah DeLappe's script tries, in my estimation, to perhaps satirize these vapid upper class people, but nearly all of them are delineated in such stereotypical fashion that BODIES BODIES BODIES appears too lazily slavish to horror conventions for its own good, especially for its earlier intentions to subvert them. 

The film hurtles towards its inevitable final act when the true nature of - shall we say - what actually tipped off the first killing is revealed in the closing moments, and I'll compliment the film for being cleverly and darkly ironic with its resolution (plus, it shows one character being even more recklessly dumb than initially established).  The ending of BODIES BODIES BODIES hits deliciously hard and it was almost enough for me to forgive this film's multiple creative transgressions that led into it, but an audacious gallop to the finish line just wasn't enough for me.  This film desperately wants to be shrewdly subversive with its hodgepodge of the slasher and whodunnit murder mystery genres, but it somehow doesn't fully come together as a fluid and commendable whole.  That's too bad, because Reijin is a natural gifted filmmaker that makes a fairly energized (albeit in a hyper caffeinated way) and stylized picture, but on a psychological level BODIES BODIES BODIES is about as hollow as its doomed characters. 

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