In Bodies Bodies Bodies, a horror whodunit for a new generation, the joke is on us

click to enlarge In Bodies Bodies Bodies, a horror whodunit for a new generation, the joke is on us
The four young stars try to remain living bodies.

Tension is the name of the game in Bodies Bodies Bodies. It's felt in the pause that goes on for just a bit too long and the slight change in expression at an unexpected statement, early signs of the impending descent into chaos. It all comes together to tell the story of seven friends who find themselves stuck in an isolated mansion during a hurricane and how everything goes sideways when the party game the film is named for becomes far too real after someone ends up dead.

At the center of this is the relatively new couple of Sophie (Amandla Sternberg of The Hate U Give) and Bee (Maria Bakalova of Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm), who arrive last at the gathering. Sophie recently got out of a stint in rehab and didn't tell the group of friends the duo would be coming, starting things off on already awkward footing. They are still tentatively greeted by the spoiled rich kid that is David (Pete Davidson), his insecure girlfriend Emma (Genera+ion's Chase Sui Wonders), the sharp-eyed Jordan (Industry's Myha'la Herrold), and the aggravating Alice (Shiva Baby's Rachel Sennott), who all have a history with Sophie. There is also the odd man out in Greg (Foundation's Lee Pace), who Alice recently met on Tinder.

This ensemble cast is almost all uniformly wonderful though there are a few particularly strong performances that rise above the rest. Sternberg and Bakalova, each respective standouts in their prior work, efficiently create a complex relationship defined from the very beginning by uncertainty as both of their characters are vastly different people. Sennott had already shown in Shiva Baby that she could navigate discomfort and cringe with ease, though she fully leans into that here. Pace also is a welcome presence who, as the oldest character there, can shift from being seemingly harmless to menacing in moments of confrontation. The only one who feels out of place is a distracting Davidson who is basically playing a version of himself that remains indistinguishable from his other roles. Thankfully, he isn't the focus of this tumultuous tale.

Even as the film can frequently get caught up in circles as it wanders through the dark halls of the mansion, the haunting and humorous moments where all the buried truths come out are appropriately cutting. That Bee, one of the few we recognize has come from more humble means, is able to recognize these truths more clearly than anyone offers a bit more to chew on. However, even she might not be able to see the danger that is building or its origin until it is too late.

This is all directed with a patient playfulness by Halina Reijn in a second feature that makes one wish her debut, 2019's Instinct, wasn't nearly impossible to watch. The way she lets certain moments and visuals linger instills many of the early scenes with a looming sense of dread. While the film would benefit from a bit better pacing, it still hits its stride when it counts.

As the night of terror and paranoia goes on, you soon discover that the gag of it all is inseparable from the film's aspirations. The way it pokes fun at itself and its characters is key to understanding the why to everything that is going on. Each of the main characters is a child of the internet, shaped and warped in a way that the film is surprisingly adept at skewering. It is never showy about this, eschewing typical "How do you do, fellow kids?" levels of pandering to find something that is honest, gruesome and hilarious all at once. It is the type of film that rewards a second viewing once all the pieces fall into place in its conclusion. Though it is necessary to be cryptic about this to preserve the experience, just know that it becomes cathartic and chaotic in seeing it all unfold. Though it can drag a bit in the middle and a few of the jokes fall flat, the final punchline so thoroughly kills that it largely absolves it of its prior missteps. ♦

Two and a Half Stars Bodies Bodies Bodies
Rated R
Directed by Halina Reijn
Starring Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennott

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