A24’s latest teen adjacent horror flick is infused with a heaping dose of self-aware humor. The rules of the game (there’s always some rules, right?) will be discussed before the titular bodies start piling up. By now, any new horror-comedy hybrid inevitably gets compared to the long-running Scream franchise. In reality, this debut film by director Halina Reijn is closer in spirit to an early A24 hit, 2013’s Spring Breakers. Bodies Bodies Bodies is a sex, drugs, and whatevs thriller more concerned with authenticity than big laughs and bigger kills. There are plenty of zingers and gallons of blood housed within the feature’s tight 95 minutes, but the film’s strongest aspects are the dialogue exchanges between the strong ensemble and the other ways the film observes the Gen Z era; not unlike how Harmony Korine put a new spin on the Jazz Age’s The Great Gatsby for dubstep millennials. Look at all this shit, indeed!
Alongside the casting of Lee Pace as an old amongst the six angsty youth, the lineup – for most general audiences – are a string of new faces, the exception being Kim Kardashian’s current bae, Pete Davidson. Maria Bakalova, second on the call sheet for the Borat sequel, might give viewers déjà vu if they can remember where they’ve heard her heavy Bulgarian accent. Rachel Sennott, who impressed in last year’s indie darling, Shiva Baby, also starred in a short-lived ABC sitcom, Call Your Mother. The rest of the cast, including Amandla Stenberg, Chase Sui Wonders, and Myha’la Herrold, may be new to even those familiar with indie fare. Thus, like the original Scream, which starred a slew of fresh starlets, predicting who bites it becomes all the more engaging.
The title of the film is also the name of the game. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” has players take a strip of paper with one unsuspecting person being tagged the killer. Standing in a circle, the lights are shut off, and with a pinch, the “killer” does the deed. The object is for the remaining survivors to accurately reveal the real killer before they’re all dead. Wisely, the script by Sarah DeLappe (story by Kristen Roupenian) only uses the game as a catalyst. Soon, someone is dead IRL and the remaining six can freak out or calmly figure out what’s happening. Let the freak-out begin!
What’s so impressive about Bodies Bodies Bodies is that no matter how familiar aspects of the plot feel, the writing and the staging isn’t derivative. Many elements of the formulaic “teens in a cabin” tropes are subverted or contrasted. The setting, for starters, is a lavish mansion, not a wooden shack which speaks to the characters’ own hypocrisies regarding generational wealth. A hurricane isolates the group instead of a snow storm/wildness, but the real terror is not nature but the lack of a connection via social media. When the darkness takes over the finely furnished rooms, illumination by smartphone lights becomes very telling.
At nearly every plot turn, how the remaining zoomers (and Lee Pace’s old GenXer) figure out what to do is tethered by not just who they are as characters but as a result of their own generational biases. Pace, in particular, has a ball as a new-agey slacker Greg, who doesn’t want to get “real” but can and will if cornered (A kind of microcosm of the 60s boomer hippie that became an 80s yuppie). Others, like Herrold’s suspicious Jordan, deflects her upper-middle-class upbringing. Fake friends are the norm.
Yet even with all these people being crappy to each other, director Reijn keeps the engagement high thanks to the very likable cast. In past roles, Pete Davidson often lacked range, leaning too much on his SNL schtick, but as insecure toxic mess David, he’s note perfect. Sennott’s Alice shows teeth beneath the air of being a flighty ingenue à la Amanda Seyfried’s Karen in Mean Girls. There isn’t a weak performance.
A lousy version of this film would be akin to Sofia’s Coppola’s Bling Ring (ironically, released the same year as Spring Breakers), where contempt for its characters was front and center. Ultimately, Bodies Bodies Bodies is too smart to let each person be summed up by their own preordained memes.