Bickering, backstabbing, and blood, with a biting social commentary
Bodies Bodies Bodies nestles nicely into an ongoing, unofficial theme at this year’s SXSW of intimate locations hosting situations that rapidly escalate into colossal clusterfucks. In this instance, it’s a remote, opulent mansion, host to a group of 20-somethings planning a debauched weekend under the shadow of an incoming hurricane. But the planned party instead descends into bickering, backstabbing, and blood.
Fresh out of rehab, and freshly coupled to new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova), Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) is the last of her friend group to arrive. Greeted by their host David (Pete Davidson) they receive a chillier reception from his girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), while another friend, Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), is confrontational from the offset. A warmer welcome comes from the effervescent Alice (Rachel Sennott), who has dragged along her new beau Greg (Lee Pace). Awkward reunions give way to alcohol, drugs, and further confrontations among the crew. To break the tension, someone suggests playing a game, the titular “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” A random drawing designates one player the murdered, the lights go out, a “victim” is tapped on the shoulder and plays “dead,” the lights come on, and the survivors have to guess who the killer is. The game’s first round offers an appetizer for what’s to come as the groups start to circle one another, pointing out each of their tells, their habits, exploiting their knowledge to try to guess who the killer is. Things turn sour, bringing the game to a halt. Not long after, one of their number is found outside the house, covered in blood, dying from a neck wound. Panic engulfs the group just as the hurricane hits, taking out the power and their cell phones. The group struggles to hold their shit together, and before long, more bodies pile up and the gang continues to pile on each other.
Writer Sarah DeLappe, working from a story by Kristen Roupenian, turns in a sharp and biting script that weaves a whodunnit reminiscent of the Clue or Werewolf games. Social anxiety among a group of teen girls provides perfect fuel for any film that relies on an infusion of mistrust and paranoia. The murders themselves are nicely executed (no pun intended), but are (refreshingly) a backdrop to the even more savage moments between this circle of “friends.” Snarky and sharp comments and resentment give to years of animosity and secrets, rising to the surface or weaponized to cause further hurt. Issues with addiction, fidelity, privilege, resentment, and more come to the surface. The film doesn’t fill in all the blanks, but plants you in the midst of a long-simmering series of issues. Beyond the personal strife, Bodies uses these characters to offers a wider skewering of Gen-Z, from virtue-signaling, hyper-awareness, and the superficiality that stems from social media to the embrace of new-age spirituality. This is where the film finds even more of a black comedy streak, one that tilts slightly farcical at times.
The film ultimately rides on its brilliantly effective cast, and such flawed characters gives each of them plenty of juicy material to come to grips with. The performances feel very reactive, feeding nicely into this combustible mix. Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) is quietly understated but crucially effective in the role of an outsider dropped into this shitshow. Pace (Pushing Daisies, A Single Man) and Davidson (The King of Staten Island, SNL) going head in a pissing contest is also a highlight. But it’s Sennott (Shiva Baby) who steals the entire film with impeccable comedic timing and delivery, notably a line about being an “ally” that is one of the line reads of the year. Together, they bring an exuberant, chaotic energy that director Halina Reijn harnesses to fuel this pressure cooker scenario. Slick pacing, a continually moving camera embedded within the girls, and the use of flashlights and cell phones to illuminate shots make for an immersive experience, while a thumping score ratchets up the discordant and unnerving mood. But it’s the pitch-black humor and biting social commentary, more than the bloody kills, that makes Bodies Bodies Bodies stand out.