Editor’s note: This review was originally published at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. A24 releases the film in theaters on Friday, August 5.
There’s a moment in Halina Reijin’s raucous new film “Bodies Bodies Bodies” in which a frustrated Pete Davidson steps away from the ongoing rich kids party taking place in his secluded mansion, and — with a brazen self-awareness of his fuckboi persona — exclaims, “I look like I fuck. It’s my whole vibe.” Davidson plays David, the hot-headed, acid-humored, toxic male personality who serves as the catalyst for a night of mayhem. While Davidson is a scene stealer, he’s not not the focal point of a film wherein relationships disintegrate, faux activism is lampooned, and murder ensues.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” tells the story of Bee (Maria Bakalova) and Sophie (Amandla Stenberg); two young women in a six-week relationship caught in the liminal space between casual and serious. The first shot of the film, in fact, is a close-up of the pair kissing, transitioning to them rolling in the grass. An intimate camera nestles close to them, as Sophie tells Bee, “I love you.” The camera holds, suspended in Bee’s unreciprocated response. Sophie is deceptively assured, the kind of confidence that comes when you’re used to hiding your losses beneath the surface. She’s taking the quiet Bee, an enigma without a past and seemingly without a future, to David’s isolated forest-bound mansion to introduce her new sweetheart to her filthy rich friends.
Populated by a feverish humor and governed by fatalistic doom, Reijin’s “Bodies Bodies Bodies” moves with a slapdash pace that belies its sturdy aesthetic construction. In the first half of the film, a rave more than a story, it’s difficult to determine how these wealthy trust fund kids are at all interesting — beyond their clearly humorous vapidness. An actress, the empathic Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) rarely appears genuine to her friends. An aloof Alice (Rachel Sennott) runs a podcast called “Hanging out with your smartest, funniest friend.” Her rugged boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) is more of a sideshow specimen of an everyman, there to entertain her friends by merely existing. And then there’s Sophie’s old flame Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), radiating “I still love you” vibes. A hurricane is barreling down on them, soon to entrap the group in their spacious mansion, but the real interpersonal whirlwinds have yet to come.
Tightly wound in anxiousness, the mood turns when Sophie suggests they play a game called Bodies Bodies Bodies. In reality, the tournament derives from several names, such as Werewolf, but the basic rules are as follows: Each person slaps their friend across the face and takes a shot. In each slap, however, is more than just a slap. A jealous David, for instance, despises the attention the women throw toward Greg, and wallops him — BAM — on the cheek. After slapping, one random player, unbeknownst to the group, is appointed as the killer.
When the lights turn off, if the murderer touches you, you’re dead. The other players must identify the killer before they can win. It’s a simple albeit distressing game, tailor made for hurt feelings and vicious anger catapulted, in this context, toward rampant fear when the storm decimates the power and a party guest turns up actually dead. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is of course a slasher horror, but as the house descends into a bloody freakout, it’s impossible not to throw it under a singular Gen Z umbrella. It’s what the film interrogates — accidental mania and socio-economic fueled distrust — that sets this sharp script apart.
It all comes together, primarily, because Reijin crafts a convincing mirror against super-online audiences. Her direction imbues this film with a striking originality, wherein the unrelenting tension and paranoid mood combine toward unnerving ends. The lighting, planned in collaboration with cinematographer Jasper Wolf (“Monos”) and the actors themselves, rely on sparse lights from cellphones and flashlights, as they explore the immense mansion for the killer. The chiaroscuro shades create a gripping claustrophobic effect, as the actors fumble around in the dark. Winding stairs become a dark death trap, rendered creepier by the whimsical score. A car at the center of a hurricane’s whipping winds becomes a brief haven. I also just love the idea that without wifi, we’d all descend into murder.
The most memorable moments in the film are carried out by Davidson and Sennott, breathing life into flat characters. After her breakout in “Shiva Baby,” Sennott in particular carves out another side of her acting by discarded her surly exterior for a cosmically comical airhead. Her dynamic timing when Sophie accuses her character of racism, as the word “ally” sputters out of her mouth, will remain the line delivery of the year. Following “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” Bakalova also adds fresh contours to a reedy character in her reserved carriage, in the ways her clumsiness — verbal and physical — draws suspicion. If there’s a glaring weakness in “Bodies Bodies Bodies” it’s how much heavy lifting the actors are required to perform. These aren’t immediately potent parts, though Reijin does bring out the best from her actors.
A similar sentiment applies to some of the film’s weighty subjects. While white feminism is effectively lampooned, on the other hand, in one corrosive scene, Jordan makes a slipshod attempt to address her place in the group’s pecking order. It’s a fine upending of bootstrapping mythology, but arrives with such a brief warning that the topic lands as more of a checkbox than a bit working on every level. Throughout the movie, a friend named Max is MIA, and the mystery surrounding his whereabouts adds very little drama, and, by the end, even less of a payoff. Still, the rocky relationship between Bee and Sophie papers over these shortcomings. Both possess plenty of secrets. But what importance does truth really hold? They never profess their mutual love. But if the truth barely matters, then does saying “I love you” measure up either? Or is there a timer on trust?
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is one of those movies worth a second, third, even fourth watch. The ending, permanently immortalizing Curtis Roach and Tyga’s “Bored in the House,” stands as a clear allegiance to the visual vocabulary of TikTok. Whether any of this ages well is anybody’s guess, and probably secondary to the point of this very present film. But it’s the uproarious image of rich kids without wifi, descending into frothing at the mouth, bloody madness, that makes Reijin’s “Bodies Bodies Bodies” an unmistakable Gen Z anthem for blood.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” premiered at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival. A24 will release it at a later date.
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