Halina Reijn | 1hr 35min
Bodies Bodies Bodies delivers a perverse thrill in seeing its ensemble of cynical, self-sabotaging 20-something-year-olds tear themselves down over the course of one bloody, wild party. Among them, a killer lies in secret, waiting for the opportune time to claim their next victim, though at times we may wonder whether this person is truly worse than any of the two-faced narcissists who fall prey to the mounting body count. Halina Reijn is a couple of decades older than her cast, and yet her Gen Z twist on the classic murder mystery format packs a cynical punch its dry satire, stripping back the superficial buzzwords and layers of irony that these characters have built their superficial identities on to expose the fraught insecurities that lie beneath.
With a hurricane on its way to inevitably shut down the power of the grand mansion the guests are partying inside, all the conditions are ripe for a classic horror film to unfold. Throw in a flat car battery and a lack of mobile reception, and the setup of Bodies Bodies Bodies almost feels a bit too trite in its well-worn tropes, though fortunately we find richer material in the intricate web of relationships set up between all seven key characters. Bee is the audience conduit here, played by Maria Bakalova right off the back of her success in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, and though we are tempted at times to suspect her given the mysterious backstory she offers, we believe that we can rule her out early on. She is the outsider in this group, and when the first death takes place, we can confidently confirm her alibi.
Among the rest of the cast, Bodies Bodies Bodies amusingly plays on recognisable archetypes of young, affluent adults, and finds the perfect casting for each. Bee’s girlfriend, Sophie, is played by Amandla Stenberg as the friend in the chat who lurks but never replies, while bringing a huge amount of baggage in her personal struggles. Pete Davidson is the insufferable asshole, threatened by the presence of other men in the group. Rachel Sennott builds off her success in Shiva Baby as a daft podcaster, standing out as one of the film’s greatest sources of comedy.
Further rounding out the ensemble is the older guy who lives vicariously through his younger friends, the aspiring actress with vanity issues, and an old friend of Sophie’s who is acting strangely hostile to the new couple. The first time we meet them, Reijn dips her camera underwater in the backyard pool where they are suspended in stasis, and though they are evidently competing to see who can hold their breath the longest, the visual foreshadowing of their eventual deaths is wryly delivered.
When we return to this shot towards the end of the film, the mood has significantly changed. No longer are these men and women sitting passively beneath its sparkling, blue surface – those who are still alive engage in a violent struggle, splashing through the now-muddy water. Even through the film’s darkest moments though, Reijn never lets go of her film’s dark humour. When presented with a choice to reach for either a gun or a phone containing damning secrets, it is clear which one these characters are going to fight over. They thrive in an economy of data, and so when there is a mystery killer on the loose, whoever holds the most information has the greatest advantage.
It is a thin line though between deducing the identity of the killer and cruelly calling out a friend’s flaws, and even at the height of the murders, these characters can’t help twisting the knife into each other. Awkward laughs and playful jabs barely mask the cold indifference that lovers hold towards each other, or the outright loathing between old schoolmates. Although the premise of awful people being killed one by one in an isolated location is clearly influenced by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, Gaspar Noé’s aggressive nihilism can be felt even more in Reijn’s devastating disintegration of seven once-stable lives, calling to mind the devastating chaos of the party in Climax. All it takes a single push of a domino to topple the rest over, and soon this small group of friends, partners, and enemies are ripping themselves apart, stealing the spotlight from the actual killer.
Reijn continues lifting cues from Noé’s regular cinematographer, Benoît Debie, in her illumination of the mansion once the power goes out, accessorising her characters’ necks and wrists with glow sticks to offer a permanent light source wherever they go. It is a small but effective touch, subtly underscoring the manic frenzy with neon blues, greens, and purples, all of which stand out even more when they enter the mansion’s gym, now entirely washed in a red emergency light. Reijn’s finely executed suspense also mounts in an ill-fated attempt to escape, panning the camera 360 degrees through a car and capturing the panicked faces of the remaining survivors realising they are hopelessly doomed.
In true murder mystery fashion though, the real stinger is delivered right at the end of Bodies Bodies Bodies, and how could it close out any other way? The plotting to reach this conclusion is a little too conventional at times, but the work Reijn puts into building these characters earns the biting, final pay-off, leaving us to realise – perhaps there is a greater threat to these young adults than mysterious, violent serial killers.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is currently playing in theatres.