The thriller genre is certainly not short on movies in which the plot revolves around hiding a body, but for a directorial debut, co-writers and co-directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen have chosen an appropriately low-stakes premise in which to get their feature film feet wet. And as such, you couldn’t be blamed for lowering your expectations for “Body,” which doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor strive to. Instead, Berk and Olsen seem happy enough to try and simply execute the tale, told within a very familiar milieu, and thanks to some good performances, and a keen sense of storytelling economy, they get they job done in wholly satisfactorily, if not blazingly original, manner.
Right off the bat, thriller or horror fans hoping to get to the good stuff might be put off by the slow burn. In fact, we don’t get to the body until at least a good third or so into the movie, but it’s key to establishing the bonds of friendship between Holly (Helen Rogers), Cali (Alexandra Turshen), and Mel (Lauren Molina) that will be tested severely before the night is over. Lazing around mousy Mel’s house for the holidays, the girls’ Friday night hangout soon grows dull, and the always-looking-for-a-good-time Cali doesn’t want to wind up going to bed at the same hour that everyone else their age goes out to party. For a change of scenery, and hopefully a little more fun, Cali invites Holly and Mel to her wealthy uncle’s place. He’s away for the winter, and there’s just a big empty house waiting for them to to let loose. Who can resist? So off the trio go to add a little more Christmas cheer to their time together.
Naturally, the good times don’t last too long. As they hang out, play vintage arcade games, and drink, Holly begins to notice that the portraits around the house are of an Asian family. It takes a moment, but she puts it all together and confronts Cali who confesses that it isn’t her uncle’s house, but instead belongs to family she used to babysit for. However, Cali she doesn’t see the harm. The family is going to be away for months, and when the girls leave, it’ll be like they were never there anyway. But the good time vibe has been broken by the revelation, and Holly, Mel and the reluctant Cali decide to leave. But in walks a mysterious white man (Larry Fessenden) who is as shocked to see the girls as they are to see him. A struggle ensues between Holly, Mel, and this unknown interloper at the top of a staircase, and it ends, with man at the bottom, looking every inch dead.
Again, this won’t win points for freshness, but “Body” succeeds on its own very modest terms because Berk and Olsen understand that while they perhaps won’t cook up high grade thrills, the true tension comes not from the situation itself, but the dynamic between the young women. It’s on this count the filmmakers get it right. All three leads use the opening sections of the film to establish a very believable friendship, along with subtle power position each has in the group. Cali is the leader, if only be sheer force of will, Holly is the level-headed voice of reason, while Mel is content to see which way the breeze is blowing, and go with the flow. With a body between them to deal with, watching those dynamics change is as much fun as trying to figure out what the girls will do to get out of this situation. Now, it should be said, that while on close inspection “Body” likely doesn’t hold up to narrative scrutiny, the filmmakers dance around the issues effectively and quickly enough you’re willing to just roll with it. To explain much further would be to give away the various twists the film introduces, but the low heat thriller moving moves along amiably enough until its wicked little finish.
“Body” isn’t transgressive or particularly inventive, and if you just wanted a similarly themed, hide-the-body thriller, there are countless others that do this same thing with more verve and style. But Beck and Olsen are at least wise enough to keep this movie a trim 75-minutes, clearly aware they don’t have much fat on the bone, while also making it easier on the themselves to work out the mechanics of the thriller genre in their first film. Indeed, “Body” is very much an exercise, but by a couple of guys who are already showing a confident handle of coaxing solid performances out of their cast, sustaining a mood, and not reaching beyond their means. This all might sound like faint praise, but just try and watch “Body” without sitting right through to end to find out just where this one night gone wrong ends up. [B-]