Bodies Bodies Bodies is a film that doesn’t quite pull off what it wants to do, but it’s plucky enough that I didn’t care. The cast is so talented, the dialogue so crisp, the film so frankly sexual, and the lighting so good that whatever flaws the film may possess are inconsequential. If a movie has me leaning forward in my seat, I tend to view it as a win.
Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies is hard to classify. It’s sold as a slasher movie, but it is not. This is not to say there aren’t moments of tension and gore; there are. But it becomes pretty clear very early on the type of movie Bodies Bodies Bodies is playing at being and the kind of movie that it is are two different movies.
The script written by Sarah DeLappe, with “story by” credit going to Kristen Roupenian, plays at being a slasher flick but is in reality much more an old dark house story: a group of people trapped in a secluded manor during a rainstorm. At the same time, strange and vaguely eerie happenings transpire. In Bodies Bodies Bodies, a group of twenty-somethings has gathered at one of their mansions to party during a storm that has caused almost everyone else to evacuate.
DeLappe and Roupenian have written characters with rich inner lives that also happen to be raging a-holes. A satire about class, Bodies Bodies Bodies works best when the characters are arguing. Characters rake each other over real and imagined goals for perceived slights. Bodies Bodies Bodies is so engaging because of its characters and the way the actors bring them alive.
Reijn and DeLappe center the story around Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova), two queer women who have just started dating. Sophie wants to take Bee to meet her friends, “They’re not as nihilistic as they seem online,” she assures her on the drive to the secluded mansion. To some extent, she’s right.
A lot of people will try to twist Bodies Bodies Bodies into being a satire on the youth of today. However, Reijn’s real aim is at the wealthy. Sophie and David (Pete Davidson) are the Richie Richs of the group, the true one percenters. Also at the party are David’s girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonder), an aspiring actor and socialite, the vapid Alice (Rachel Sennott), who has a podcast that no one listens to, the indignant Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), and Greg (Lee Pace) Alice’s tinder date.
The group is shocked at Sophie’s arrival. “You never responded in the group!” Sophie’s friends harbor a deep resentment towards her. As Bodies Bodies Bodies goes along, we learn that Sophie is a recovering addict and that when her friends complained about how she just “vanished,” she was in rehab. They bandy words like “toxic” and “narcissistic” with ease but can’t seem to grasp that they might be the very thing they claim others are, especially the way they continue to casually use drugs in front of their close friend, a known addict.
DeLappe’s script slyly observes how language and terms meant for activists can be appropriated by the wealthy and society to become slang for a current generation. Yet, at the same time, DeLappe captures the rhythms of how young people speak so well that it is a rare script that doesn’t feel like adults trying to write younger.
“You literally, literally, just killed a dude.”
Soon Sophie suggests they play a game, “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” Everyone draws a piece of paper; whoever draws the slip with the ‘X’ is the murderer. The lights go out, everyone runs into the dark, and the murderer touches someone on the back; they die. When the body is discovered, they scream “Bodies Bodies, Bodies,” and try to guess who the murderer is.
It’s the type of game tailor-made for people of a certain age. The game comes with a promise of drama and playing with the taboo without actually being taboo. Drugs and booze are the prime movers at parties like this; and buried jealousies, old wounds, and desires.
Once bodies start dropping for real, suspicion falls on the newcomers. Jordan accuses Greg, who has gone to bed early because he’s sensible. But when interrogated, Alice seems unable to tell her friends anything about her date. “He’s a Libra Moon! That says something!”
Indeed it does, as Greg is possibly the chilliest of the bunch. Even when David tries to start a fight with him, he understands he is merely acting out. Everyone in Bodies Bodies Bodies does a bang-up job, but Pace, as always, is in a class by himself. His Greg has an affable charm and aloofness that makes him both a prime suspect and the least likely.
Reijn and DeLappe capture so succinctly the insecurity and bravado of the young characters. They talk a lot about principles and convictions without actually having any themselves. Yet, the script is lively enough to where little surprises lie around every corner. The surprises don’t come in plot twists but in the ebb and flow of conversations.
Bakalova and Stenberg’s scenes together possess a rapturous mystery to them. Reijn opens the film with Jasper Wolf’s camera in a tight close-up of the two furiously making out while Sophie explores her new girlfriend’s body. Throughout the movie, we see the relationship tested as we learn secrets and truths about both characters, all while DeLappe and Reijn subvert the trope of the Final Girl and Bury Your Gays.
The sexuality in Bodies Bodies Bodies is refreshingly frank. Wolf’s camera isn’t ogling these characters so much as merely observing how carefree they are. Of course, the characters are horny, but neither they nor the movie ever feels lecherous.
One of the outstanding achievements of Bodies Bodies Bodies, besides the return of Bakalova to the big screen, a blazing talent who should be in more things, is the lighting. It may seem a mundane aspect to praise, but for a movie that takes place mainly in a dark house, Wolf and Reijn find ways to use cellphones and glow sticks to make scenes brighter and light. We are in an era in which movies and television shows love to spend time in the dark but have no clue how to light these scenes so we can see what is going on.
Add to this Wolf and Reijn’s apparent mastery of the dark alchemy that is essential lighting; they understand how to light Black skin. I point this out because the lighting of PoC is so “difficult” that even in 2022, directors and DPs seem to struggle with this basic understanding.
Look, Bodies Bodies Bodies isn’t great. I wish Wolf and Reijn would have done more to give us the house’s layout. There’s an attempt in the beginning, but once the characters start rushing from the darkened wing to the next, we become as lost as poor Bee as she stumbles about.
DeLappe and Reijn have a good time playing with tropes and letting their characters be delightfully bitchy that their failures don’t matter. For example, towards the end of Bodies Bodies Bodies, Bee confesses her mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder and is close to being homeless herself. Rachel and Jordan, who are pointing a gun at Bee, pause and commiserate, “Mental illness is no joke.”
Characters trade insults with gleeful venom, “Your parents are upper middle class,” but neither DeLappe nor Reijn feels overly vindictive of them. As the movie wound to close, it became clear that part of why Bodies Bodies Bodies works so well is because the makers of the film love their characters despite their flaws, but they don’t give them a free pass.
There is a sense of tragic comedy as the storm ends and the cold light of day begins to dawn. I won’t spoil the ending. Suffice to say Bodies Bodies Bodies is a movie where you leave wishing everyone involved was making more movies.
Images courtesy of A24/Stage 6 Films
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