Nothing gets the thriller juices flowing quite like a wee bit of classism. While not full-blown horror like Texas Chainsaw or Friday the 13th, plenty of great films use the backbone of economic hardship to tell wild genre stories. Classics like The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby were light on the literal scares but chilled to the bone. These films can often critique a movement, a scene, or a generation while embodying characters from the very ideas they wish to explore. For Bodies Bodies Bodies, director Halina Reijn combines Millenial and Gen-Z characters to craft a freight train of a mystery. Firmly placed in this moment in time, Reijn explores what truly frightens audiences in the social media age.
The thriller follows Bee (Maria Bakalova) as she enters a world of rich young adults. Her girlfriend, Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) struggles with addiction but has been clean for weeks. Sophie’s best friend David (Pete Davidson) hosts friends to join him for a hurricane party. As the night unfolds, Bee finds the friend group (Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders, Lee Pace, and Myha’la Herrold) struggling to maintain its messy drama. When a member of the party ends up dead, the night takes a turn.
Reijn actively pulls from the progressive lexicon to yield much of her humor. While there’s an absurdity to the statements and the contexts in which they’re uttered, the poisonous tongues of her characters maximize their effect. This may cause some right-leaning viewers to giggle at the use of phrases about allyship, trauma processing, and toxicity. Yet the way in which Reijn and screenwriters Sarah DeLappe and Kristen Roupenian write the dialogue, these moments are truly sincere. They may be in on the jokes, but the characters are not. To achieve high-level parody while crafting genuine reactions speaks to the respect the creative team has for these performers, these characters, and their audience.
Reijn deserves additional praise for her subtle nods setting up payoffs to come down the road. The dialogue and visual focus helps the audience connect the dots between seemingly unimportant moments in the film. A few years ago, Rian Johnson’s spectacular Knvies Out thrived because of his attention to detail. Reijn deserves equal praise for the visual attention she creates with her camera. However, the more innovative aspect of the film comes into focus when the lights go down. Long takes, using only phone lights and flashlights become some anxiety-inducing moments. The visual language of the film feels unique, while simultaneously paying homage to decades of characters wandering in the dark. Doing also gives the impression that the house, which feels large during the day, may have infinite rooms in the darkness.
Using disorientation to create tension is far from a new thing. Yet Reijn excels at its use. Throw in some drug use, casual racism, and narcissism, and Bodies Bodies Bodies really gets cooking. Reijn’s film makes an excellent double feature with Nope, not due to its grandiosity, but because of the messages strewn throughout. Distrust rots the group from the inside out, while wealth so thoroughly corrupts every character, they begin to turn on each other. Lies stack on top of lies.
Unmasking character motivations around money, sex, and power become commonplace. The ultimate currency to these characters is not money. God knows they have more than any of them will ever need. Instead, the power to manipulate their friends becomes integral in navigating friendships. How one uses that power or obtains it, leads characters to some dark revelations. The narcissism required to believe the world will revolve around you has led others astray. At the end of the day, the pursuit of this social currency leads each character to their fate, whether deserved or not.
Bakalova, hot off her Oscar nomination for Borat 2, once again shines throughout. While her character struggles to communicate, her voyeur status earns her the pseudo-lead role of the film. While Reijn utilizes this aspect of the character to unlock the emotionally complex webs of the friend group, Bakalova draws in the audience with empathy-inducing sadness. There’s at true heart to this character, and at times it feels more important that Bee makes it out of the situation without corrupting her would.
Stenberg’s stretch to romantic lead also feels earned throughout the film. She’s easily the most charismatic character on-screen for most of the film. There’s no doubt this Queen bee would hold court, show up unexpectedly, and still find adoration. Finally, do not sleep on Sonnett. While playing into the comedy of the film, she steals at least a half-dozen scenes. It’s impossible to ignore her gravitational hold on the camera, even when characters want to move in new directions.
A satisfying and odd film, Bodies Bodies Bodies quickly establishes the absurdity of its characters. From there, we simply follow the dominos as they fall. The film not only shines a light on another group of extremely talented performers but highlights Reijn as an exciting new voice in filmmaking.
Alan’ Rating: 8/10
Bodies Bodies Bodies is available today in select markets. It opens nationwide on August 12th. It is distributed by A24.