Deceitfully Clever Bodies Bodies Bodies a Horrifyingly Hilarious Breath of Fresh Air
Bodies Bodies Bodies is a gnarly, uncouth, and suitably deceitful breath of fresh horror air. Acclaimed director Halina Reijn (Instinct) makes her English-language debut behind the camera, working from a screenplay penned by playwright Sarah DeLappe (The Wolves) and based on Kristen Roupenian’s original story. What the trio has concocted is a fast-paced, devilishly hilarious, and fearlessly cutthroat whodunnit thriller. It’s also one of the better films I’ve seen this year.
Socialite and recovering addict Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) have arrived late to a “hurricane party” being thrown by the former’s best friend David (Pete Davidson) at his family’s secluded mansion. Other attendees include David’s goofy girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), the forcefully direct Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), and gregarious podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott), who also brought along her new boyfriend, sexy fortysomething vet Greg (Lee Pace).
As the storm begins to rage, the group decides to play “bodies bodies bodies,” a variation on hide-and-seek, only in which one of them is secretly a “killer” and, after a participant is “murdered,” all of the “survivors” must come back together and try to guess which of them did the dirty deed. As everyone — save Sophie — has been drinking a bit too much, and maybe even snorted a few lines of recreational cocaine, tongues get loose and emotions fray. Their attempt to play the game devolves into a shouting match overflowing with harsh truths and even worse insinuations, and some of the ladies openly wonder why they’re all friends in the first place.
This is only the tip of a lethal iceberg. What begins as a shrewd, female-centered satirical comedy for the TikTok generation quickly spirals into Agatha Christie–meets–The House on Sorority Row or Slumber Party Massacre territory. Featuring take-no-prisoners verbal repartee akin to something like Mean Girls as the gift wrapping concealing the diabolic antics that transpire after a party attendee mysteriously turns up literally dead, there’s so much going on in this absurdist nightmare that I’m going to need multiple viewings to fully embrace every twist and turn.
I have to say, when we talk about wanting messy LGBTQ+ representation in horror, DeLappe and Roupenian have come up with exactly that. Unlike They/Them, there is no agenda, no attempt to walk on eggshells. Characters do not get thrown under the bus or do things that make no sense as far as the grand scheme is concerned. They do not make ghastly decisions that play into tired and offensive stereotypes.
Instead, they get to make disturbing and despicable choices that feel wholly authentic. Sophie is an entitled misanthrope who knows how to use language — both verbal and nonverbal — to get what she wants or provoke a response from those she’s trying to agitate. The same goes for Jordan. These two have committed any number of selfish acts. Now that one of their friends is lying dead in a pool of blood outside the patio door, they can’t help but make the situation more about themselves than trying to unmask the identity of a killer who is likely to strike again before the night is over.
All five of the women have their secrets, however, and almost each is prone to say something ghastly at the expense of one or more of their supposed “best” friends. But they are equally liable to be shockingly selfless in some substantively surprising ways. While these moments understandably become few and farther between as the hurricane rages on, there is at least some genuine goodness lurking within each young woman that helps give fresh deaths, when they occur, heartbreaking emotional weight and not just visceral shock value.
The obvious enigma in all of this is Bee. Splendidly portrayed by Bakalova — an Academy Award nominee for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, who proves that her nomination was far from a fluke — and inventively written by DeLappe and Roupenian, the newcomer to this group has precious little in common with those she’s partying with, other than they’re all roughly the same age. Her presence allows the satire to have extra bite, with Reijn cagily planting her as the audience’s avatar and filtering much of what is happening through her eyes.
Some will undoubtedly be disappointed that this mystery’s resolution isn’t particularly important. Reijn, DeLappe, and Roupenian have far more than a killer’s identity on their mind. The key to this story is listening to what Sophie, Jordan, Emma, and especially Alice are saying to one another, a core element of the satire being their twisting of certain phrases and how they utilize modern social media buzzwords to their own benefit.
Each actor shines and, as already mentioned, Bakalova is the clear standout, but Stenberg — also one of the film’s executive producers — and Sennott are also excellent, the latter having a plethora of scene-stealing moments that are as brazenly funny as they are appallingly crude. There’s also some grand work being turned in by both Davidson and Pace, but as they are clearly not the focal point for all this madness, it’s kind of glorious how Reijn utilizes them as masculine red herrings and not much more.
I’m not going to say anything additional, other than that Bodies Bodies Bodies features the most spectacular final reveal I’ve seen in ages. It recolors the previous 85 minutes in an entirely new light, one that made me want to go back to the beginning and take a new look right then and there. The inspired deviousness of it all filled my heart with glee, and for anyone currently bored at home and looking for something to do, heading to the theater to discover what all the fuss is about may just be the hysterically gory wakeup call they were looking for.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)