Bodies Bodies Bodies, 2022.
Directed by Halina Reijn.
Starring Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennott, Myha’la Herrold, Chase Sui Wonders, Lee Pace, and Pete Davidson.
Chaos and bloodshed spreads across a group of teens when a party game played during a hurricane turns very nasty indeed.
It’s easy to laugh at Gen Z. They’re at the epicentre of the social justice movement and the associated terminology, which frequently transforms the likes of Piers Morgan into frothing, nonsensical rage-beasts – well, more so than they already are. A24’s new horror movie Bodies Bodies Bodies occupies a very odd position, taking aim at the insecurities and absurdities of these young people, while also trying to appeal to them in a way that occasionally bears fruit, but often really grates.
The movie is the English-language debut of Dutch filmmaker Halina Reijn, with the script put together by Sarah DeLappe from an original story by Kristen Roupenian – author of the internet-infamous short story Cat Person. It follows a group of privileged young types as they gather for a “hurricane party” at a secluded mansion owned by the family of David (Pete Davidson). When the power goes out, they decide to play a game of “Bodies Bodies Bodies” – similar to something like Werewolf or Wink Murder – only for it to go south when it turns out people are actually dying.
There’s an intriguing energy to the opening act of Bodies Bodies Bodies, introducing this array of colourful characters while lightly probing at the potential divisions in the group. Our entry point as an audience is Maria Bakalova – breakout star of the Borat sequel – as Bee, who has been invited along by her girlfriend Sophie (Amandla Stenberg). She is introduced to David, as well as his girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), friend Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) and her older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace).
Given the relatively tight running time, it’s impressive that DeLappe’s script finds as much room as it does to establish the dynamics and personalities at play in this social circle. Admittedly, the characters are fairly broad caricatures, but their relationships and insecurities feel real. The film is helped by an ensemble of uniformly excellent performances, with Amandla Stenberg continuing her ascent to reliable leading lady status alongside Rachel Sennott delivering a whole new facet of comedy flair to her performance in last year’s excellent Shiva Baby. Bakalova also excels in a much straighter role than her scene-stealing turn alongside Sacha Baron Cohen.
The problems arise when the movie begins to play its broader hand, throwing in what it believes to be Gen Z buzzwords as punchlines – subsequently treating important social justice concepts as if they’re the frivolous playthings of privileged teenage girls. While there is an argument that the word “gaslighting” has lost some of its meaning, that argument isn’t made here when it’s just characters slinging these phrases at each other earnestly to gales of laughter from audiences. If the movie has a more nuanced point to make, it’s lost in the noise.
It doesn’t help that the actual stalk-and-slash centre of the movie quickly loses its energy. The palpable tension of the first act – we all recognise that strange atmosphere of a party that could turn at any moment – is soon replaced by a sort of aimless plodding around in the dark. By the time the bodies start to pile up, it’s becoming more than a little samey. The fact the character deaths are – by necessity – mostly happening off-screen also robs horror fans of the sort of anarchic bloodletting that can enliven even a slightly dull slasher.
The sad result of all of this is that by the time Bodies Bodies Bodies makes it to a smartly executed and genuinely surprising conclusion, any tension or intrigue has mostly dissipated. Despite some great performances and some nice character work in the first act, it’s ultimately a movie lacking in the style its trailers promised and which trades in pretty tired stereotypes about its characters and their worldviews.
It’s easy to laugh at Gen Z. But they deserve something a whole lot sharper than this. This is why they spend so much time laughing at the rest of us. We just don’t get it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.