This review originally ran as part of Paste’s SXSW 2022 coverage
In a way, Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies is a bloodbath long before the first of its characters drops dead. The film opens with new couple Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova), who are en route to wait out a hurricane at a coked-up house-party courtesy of Sophie’s friend-group. Already in attendance at the gathering are aspiring actress Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), her frenzied, machismo millennial of a boyfriend with self-proclaimed big-dick energy, David (who else but Pete Davidson), fun-loving space-cadet Alice (Rachel Sennott) and her hunky forty-year-old Tinder boytoy, Greg (Lee Pace), and perpetual skeptic Jordan (Myha’la Herrold).
From the moment the friends first convene on David’s pool deck, catty drama thrives like bacteria in a petri dish. From piercing words between ex-lovers Sophie and Jordan, to the glaring incompatibilities between David and Emma, the explosive social tensions of Bodies are bound to have its audience bracing for bloodshed within the first 10 minutes. So what do the characters do to lighten the mood? Participate in a party game that requires them to pretend to kill each other, of course. What could possibly go wrong?
The game “bodies bodies bodies” is all about identifying a killer among a group. Unsurprisingly, when this particular crowd plays it, it only accentuates the underlying tensions among them. Emma accuses David of gaslighting her, which he responds to by gaslighting her into thinking that gaslighting isn’t a real word. Then he mocks Greg to his face in a squeamish exchange. All the while, Bee is, like us, an increasingly uncomfortable onlooker.
Just moments after the game ends, Bodies descends into an actual feverish, gory whodunit. A murder mystery always carries the potential to be more of a revealing character study than it is a film about simply finding the killer. Indeed, the former is tough to pull off in an authentic and actually interesting way, but that’s exactly what Reijn has accomplished here, alongside writers Sarah DeLappe, Chloe Okuno, and Kristen Ropeunian (“Cat Person”).
I know what you’re thinking. Films about Gen Z are more often than not cloying, on-the-nose and condescending. Not this one. In Bodies, Reijn manages to hold her finger on the pulse of a group of wealthy, chronically online, and inordinately woke early-twenty-somethings while keeping the action surprising and the characters sympathetic the whole way.
From the moment Sophie and Bee arrive at the hurricane party, the film is shrouded in an air of oppressive paranoia that persists throughout the film, and, more often than not, ties back to one place: the internet. Sophie is an immediate target for social reprimanding simply because she is bad at responding in the group chat. Bee is disliked because she isn’t Google-able. Alice and Greg’s relationship isn’t taken seriously because they met on Tinder (which everyone knows is the least serious online dating app).
In centralizing the presence of the internet and social media in Bodies’ conflicts, Reijn highlights the inherent paranoia of constantly being watched and watching others. This is a burden that Gen Z has shouldered simply by being born into the online generation, and it’s a paranoia not unlike being stalked by an unknown killer who is more than likely one of your closest friends.
What’s more anxiety-inducing for this generation than constantly being online, you might ask? Not being online at all. Right before the first death occurs, the power goes out in the party house, which sends the characters into an unfamiliar state of isolation. Accordingly, throughout the film, the outside world is only sparingly referenced, as if being cut off from the WiFi is on par with being the only people in the world.
Reijn, with the help of cinematographer Jasper Wolf, masterfully constructs a foreboding and claustrophobic visual landscape. As action escalates, we get multiple shots from Bee’s perspective, observing the mansions’ seemingly endless hallways as they menacingly unfurl, as if daring us to imagine what might be lurking at the other end. This tension is deepened when, in the thick of the indoor goose-chase, the girls light their ways with iPhones and glow-sticks, creating a hypnotic, dizzying laser tag-esque war zone.
Although Bodies is paced well enough for its action to compliment its bold visuals, the script can be loose at times, with inconsequential scenes dragging on for too long. Because of this, a lot of responsibility rests on the film’s performances. Luckily, the cast is up to task. Davidson and Pace are both in their element, and very clearly having a blast, while Sennott’s comic timing is enough to carry any scene she appears in. Each character is impeccably cast, with the possible exception of Bakalova, though in her case it’s more because her talents are somewhat wasted in a role where she isn’t given much to do. I was admittedly disheartened to see that she had little to no funny moments in the film after her inspired powerhouse comedic performance in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
When all is said and done, Bodies is everything it sets out to be. It’s a romp of a good time, stylized with big bold title cards and a soundtrack of club-hits like it’s The Bling Ring’s bloody cousin. It boasts a clever conceit and mostly effective execution, while also offering a refreshing take on the murder mystery. Whether it stands the test of time remains to be seen, but regardless, it’s a genre milestone for films about this generation.
Director: Halina Reijn
Writers: Kristen Roupenian, Sarah DeLappe, Chloe Okuno, Joshua Sharp, Aaron Jackson
Stars: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Myha’la Herrold, Pete Davidson, Lee Pace, Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders
Release Date: March 15, 2022
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.