Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies is an enormously entertaining teen horror satire that both pokes fun and celebrates Gen Z (self) obsessions. It has an energy and a black humour in the vein of Scream and Ready or Not, and Reijn and the young cast pull it off with so much invention and unpredictability it feels fresh and very enjoyable.
Effectively an updating of the premise of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then They Were None’, it concerns Bee (Maria Bakalova) with her wealthy new girlfriend Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) joining a group of Sophie’s twenty-something friends at a ‘hurricane party’ at an isolated house belonging to the family of David (Pete Davidson). The intention is to see the storm out by way of drinking, drug-taking and dancing. They decide to play a murder mystery party came ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’, but when one of the group is found dead for real, it seems there’s a killer amongst them. But who?
Of course, the household is brimming with fragile egos, self-righteousness, insecurities and sexual jealousies – the stuff of young adults since time began, but updated to include the particular obsessions, dialogue and stereotypes of Gen Z, with some very caustic and witty dialogue. Reijn, who is 46, and screenwriter Sarah DeLappe could easily have been accused (in true Gen Z stereotypical form) of not having the authority to parody the protagonists from their place of generational privilege. But instead, she seems to manage the tricky balance of making her characters seem both real and caricatures; they engage us even when they are ridiculous.
I suspect Reijn pulled this off due to how she collaborated with the cast. At the Sundance London Surprise Screening I attended, she explained that much of the dialogue was improvised and workshopped with her Gen Z cast. Being a similar age to Reihn myself, I’m no judge of the dialogue’s authenticity, but it certainly flowed and felt natural. Although the dialogue talks of ‘allies’ and ‘gaslighting’, the characters are developed sufficiently that they never feel like mere mouthpieces even at moments when the send up is on-the-nose.
I expect the time spent workshopping with the cast also allowed the young actors to form a camaraderie that comes across on screen, for although Stenberg and Bakalova are notionally the leads, this is really an ensemble cast and all the characters are interesting even where some of the roles themselves are thinly written.
Pete Davidson is enjoyably pathetic as David, Sophie’s long-term best friend, with his low self-worth and resentment. He contrasts with Lee Pace (from the Hobbit movies) playing a forty-something absurd new boyfriend of one of the (much younger) women, with a zen-like self confidence and a slight air of unpredictable danger. But this story belongs to the girls: Bakalova as working class outsider trying to fit in (and our entry into the tale), Stenberg juggling relationship and friendship loyalties, Chase Sui Wonders as pretentious poser Emma, Myha’la Herrold as the emotionally manipulative Jordan, and Rachel Sennott (Shiva Baby) as over-talkative and neurotic Alice, perhaps the standout in the cast.
None of the characters are likeable (and so expendable, adding to the unpredictability) but all are interesting in different ways, and the script relishes mocking their vapid self-regard. Nevertheless we still enjoy spending time with them.
Although it has the lightness of recent murder-in-a-mansion movies such as Knives Out and Ready or Not (the latter sharing the premise of an outsider getting involved in murderous group party game), the film most readily recollects the dark humour of Heathers, Michael Lehman’s 1989 classic black comedy that lovingly parodied the rivalries and cliques of American teenagers.
Monos cinematographer Jasper Wolf makes full use of the large mansion house, his camera following its characters into all its nooks and hidey holes, much of it handheld as the girls wander through the house in the dark. Reijn said there was no studio lights, all the lighting was via the girls’ phones, torches, and the coloured hoops that Alice wears around her neck. It’d be easy for a single-location film to feel quite stagey and constrained but the mobility around the house offers some variety, notably an extended scene of one of the characters wandering all through the darkened house, and a later solo sequence in the rain. Wolf’s cinematography and lighting very colourful, not quite to giallo proportions but adding visual interest and lending the film a fun warm atmosphere.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is often laugh-out-loud funny and with some fun scary moments. Its black humour and general cynicism towards its obnoxious protagonists, and it’s spirited inventiveness lift it above standard teen horror fare. Highly recommended.Follow @davefilmblog