Film Review: “Bodies Bodies Bodies” — Seven Little Influencers
By Nicole Veneto
This horror comedy traps a cadre of privileged, narcissistic Zennials in a whodunit murder mystery and lets their internet-addled delusions of grandeur tear them apart in the paranoid fallout.
Bodies Bodies Bodies directed by Halina Reijn. Screening at Somerville Theatre and AMC Assembly Row.
I’m incredibly lucky to belong to the friend group that I do. Most of us have known each other since our high school mall rat days. In the years since we’ve expanded the troupe to include younger siblings along with their respective friend groups as well as significant others and eventual spouses. I was even a surrogate for my two married friends (not a baby, just a sweet orange rescue cat). In April, a bunch of us rented an AirBnB in Vermont for the weekend — split 10 ways of course — and pretended we were living luxuriously in a large rustic colonial at the top of a dirt road in the Green Mountains. On Saturday night, the girls and I were soaking in the hot tub together when one of our friends stumbled onto the porch clutching his abdomen, face twisted in pain. Long story short, his appendix had burst. Given that we were a) off-road in the mountains at least 30 minutes from the nearest hospital and b) varying degrees of intoxicated, we ended up calling an ambulance. He was in surgery by the time we checked out of the AirBnB the following morning.
It’s hardly the worst thing that could have happened to a bunch of 20-somethings in a remote cabin in the woods. In the unlikely event our weekend getaway had turned into an ’80s slasher though, I’m confident none of us would have turned on each other like the insufferable rich kids in A24’s new horror comedy Bodies Bodies Bodies. In the American indie juggernaut’s latest “elevated” horror feature, Dutch director Halina Reijn and writer Sarah DeLappe trap a cadre of privileged, narcissistic Zennials (and Lee Pace) in a whodunit murder mystery and let their internet-addled delusions of grandeur tear them apart in the paranoid fallout.
Weeks into their burgeoning relationship, Sophie (Amandla Stenberg, redeeming herself from Dear Evan Hansen), a queer black girl fresh out of rehab, invites her girlfriend Bee (Borat Subsequent Movie Film breakout Maria Bakalova) to a weekend hurricane party at a mansion owned by the family of her childhood best friend David (Pete “the Skete” Davidson, perfectly cast as an obnoxious cokehead failson enabled by generational wealth). Bee, a young Eastern European emigrant working a part-time job at K-Mart to support her mother, is completely out of place among Sophie’s wealthy friend group: there’s Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), David’s aspiring actress girlfriend; Jordan (Myha’la Herrold, Industry), Sophie’s resentful ex who doesn’t even try to hide her immediate dislike of Bee; and ditzy podcaster Alice (Shiva Baby herself Rachel Sennott, giving what will probably be 2022’s most hilarious performance), with her coke habit and new 40-something himbo boyfriend Greg (the always delectable Pace) in tow. From the jump it’s clear this gaggle of narcissistic rich kids harbor unresolved beef with each other: Sophie’s arrival is met less than enthusiastically (she didn’t message The Group Chat she’d be coming with a plus one); David’s sporting two black eyes from a fight the night before; and the girls’ passive aggressive interactions with one another wouldn’t be out of place at a Real Housewives reunion.
In an effort to break the ice between Bee and her friends, Sophie proposes they play Bodies Bodies Bodies, a killer-in-the-dark style parlor game like Mafia or Ultimate Werewolf that’s functionally Among Us offline: a secretly chosen “murderer” goes around “killing” other players, and whenever a new “body” is found, the survivors have to vote who among them is the “murderer” until the culprit’s uniformly identified. Things go smoothly until an argument inevitably breaks out over who the “murderer” is, quickly devolving into buzzword-laced accusations of gaslighting and being “foot soldier[s] of white supremacy.” That’s when the hurricane knocks the power — and more importantly, the WiFi — out. The timing is especially terrible because their party game takes a sudden turn for the real when David’s body is discovered outside, his throat seemingly slashed by his father’s “authentic” champagne saber. Stranded in the mansion with no way to contact the outside world, the girls steadily turn on each other via literal as well as metaphorical back stabbings as the body count grows throughout the night.
When it comes to satirizing my Gen Z and Millennial cohorts, Hollywood’s been pretty hit or miss on nailing my generation’s collective malaise. The worst efforts either reek of contempt for our perceived entitlement or embarrass themselves by trying (hypocritically) to appeal to our sensibilities (the latter toss out memes and social media signifiers with all the subtlety of Steve Buscemi carrying around a skateboard). Bodies Bodies Bodies was announced in 2018 after A24 acquired a spec script written by Kristen Roupenian, months after her New York Times short “Cat Person” broke the internet. Initially praised as part of the #MeToo media trend, “Cat Person” has gained a fair share of detractors since its publication, most criticizing its alarmist sexual politics while others pointed to the story’s inauthentic and exploitative origins. Not only was Roupenian well into her 30s when she penned “Cat Person,” but she borrowed numerous details about the “predatory” relationship from a graduate student at the University of Michigan (who later committed suicide, I must add).
Though Roupenian retained story credit, Bodies Bodies Bodies the film is drastically different from her original spec script, sharing only the title, some character names, and the cabin-in-the-woods premise about a party game turning deadly. A24 initially tapped Chloe Okuno (Watcher) to direct and rewrite Roupenian’s script before the project was passed off to Halina Reijn. Final screenplay credit went to Pulitzer-nominated playwright Sarah DeLappe (with uncredited punch-up work by Okuno and writing duo Aaron Jackson and Joshua Sharp). The end result is a clever satire that lampoons Zennials’ worst tendencies without reducing its characters to overplayed stereotypes, resembling an Agatha Christie murder-mystery for the Euphoria crowd. Reijn’s direction teases out every twist and turn in DeLappe’s screenplay to emphasize how social media engagement warps our ability to see things as they really are, encouraging fear-based decision making and turning every interaction into a clout game. Even with the power gone in the mansion, social media remains omnipresent, and not just in the dialogue. Note that none of the girls ever put their phone down
The entire ensemble cast does a spectacular job at balancing sardonic social commentary with cinematic suspense. Still, the true MVP of Bodies Bodies Bodies is Rachel Sennott. As the airheaded Alice, Sennott steals every scene she’s in with her quick comedic timing, effusive Millennial vocal fry, and signature pout in full force, remarkable given the amount of screen time she shares with a veteran actor like Pace. To reference another A24 horror film I reviewed this year, Sennott’s got that X-factor every potential It Girl covets, effortlessly embodying the zeitgeist in all its personal relatability. Near the climax, Alice learns Jordan “hate listens” to her podcast about “hanging out with your smartest and funniest friend,” prompting a complete meltdown: “First of all, a podcast takes a lot of work, okay? You have to organize the guests, you have to do a Google calendar, and you have to build a following! It takes a lot of fucking time! AND I’VE BEEN WORKING ON IT FOR A WHILE!” I can’t say I connect with being a navel-gazing rich girl with a Tinder boyfriend over 10 years my senior but, as a podcaster myself, I’d probably have the same knee-jerk reaction if a friend insulted my anti-Marvel Cinematic Universe podcast that I work very, very hard on, thank you very much.
More in the tradition of Heathers than a cabin-in-the-woods slasher, Bodies Bodies Bodies neatly checks off all of contemporary horror’s stylistic boxes. With a score by It Follows composer Richard Vreeland (a.k.a Disasterpeace) and Jasper Wolf’s (Monos) crisp but colorful cinematography, the film continues A24’s successful streak of stylish, elevated horror features. Add a devilishly clever twist ending and a certified Charli XCX banger and you end up with an R-rated reboot of Clue for Instagram thots. Bodies Bodies Bodies isn’t a throwback gorefest like X, but frenemies and rich people with too much time (and cocaine) on their hands are plenty horrifying in their own right.
Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, concentrating on feminist media studies. Her writing has been featured in MAI Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazine, and Boston University’s Hoochie Reader. She’s the co-host of the new podcast Marvelous! Or, the Death of Cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi as well as on Substack.