In “Bodies Bodies Bodies”, a group of wealthy kids—five old friends, plus a few not-so-important others—get together for a hurricane party at the pastoral suburban mansion of one of their parents. What is a hurricane party? A storm has been predicted, and they’re using it as an excuse to barricade themselves inside, so they can dance to TikTok videos and smoke cocaine and play games, including one that describes their condition. be more or less constant: reading each other, outdoing each other, challenging each other like clawed rivals on a reality show. This is, according to the satirical vision of the film, what friendship has become in the era of gossip on social networks.
The director, Halina Reijn, works in what one might call the school of head-playing melodrama in her twenties. As soon as Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her new partner (Maria Bakalova, from “Borat Later Moviefilm”) show up to find the others lying in the pool, the perky hostility begins. The characters face each other, and the film falls on us; much of it is shot in close-up, in semi-darkness (at one point a generator goes off), with the storm raging outside, so the audience feels as if be part of the pressure cooker.
Yet “Bodies Bodies Bodies” also has a quick and witty tone of aggro. David, whose parents own the house, is played by Pete Davidson with a black eye that makes him look like a panda, and as soon as you have Pete Davidson in your movie, do what he does (be a stunted bad boy, then spitting out an observation so pointed it undermines its outrageous obtuseness), you make the audience treat everything that happens like a lark.
Soon after, the characters decide to play the game where you “kill” someone by touching them, and everyone must find out who the killer is. (The few times I’ve been forced to play this game, I’ve never fully understood how the rules work.) When they’re all in the living room, trying to name this or that person as the killer, the tension snaps into place. They take it very seriously! (Their lives are just a show, mere fodder for competitive conversation. But a Game is something you don’t like with.) They all seem to know each other’s secrets, and after it’s revealed that one character’s romantic relationship is riddled with a sexual problem, the character s go furious. Moments later, their throats were slit wide open. Zoomer’s knowingly histrionic soap opera turned into a slasher movie.
Whodunnit? We have no idea, but the implication is that it’s one of the people there. For years, the entire youth-slasher film paradigm – first this child is killed, then this child, then this child – has been traced back to the form of murder-mystery invented by Agatha Christie in “And Then There Were None”. “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” with its choppy camera movement, improvisational style acting, and all-around exuberance, is like “And Then There Were None” directed by John Cassavetes in the age of Instagram.
So it’s, you know, Amusing? In “Bodies Bodies Bodies”, people keep getting pushed around, but in a weird way, the movie isn’t a horror movie (and that might limit it commercially). The slasher isn’t some mythical menacing force of evil – and, in fact, a few kills are being committed right in front of us, by characters we can see. Greg (Lee Pace), the token oldest member of the group – he’s the burly 40-year-old guy who dates Alice (Rachel Sennott) – is considered an outsider, so when he’s lying in the gymnasium of the sub- ground meditating under his light-therapeutic mask, the women surround him as if he were the killer. There are weapons at hand, and they are soon brandished. Fear and paranoia escalate; the more Greg tries to protect himself, the more he seems to threaten them. It’s an explosive sequence that culminates in an act of violence from the last person we expected.
So who is the killer?
We thirst for knowledge, yet the answer, until the superb final twist, remains just out of reach (even if it is right in front of us). The clues, however, take the form of each character revealing who, exactly, she is. And the actors are good enough to make it a watchable proposition. Amandla Stenberg’s Sophie is relatively warm, sane, and romantic, until it’s revealed that she isn’t. Chase Sui Wonders plays David’s longtime girlfriend Emma as his shamefaced enabler, and Rachel Sennott as Alice creates a neurotically funny pattern of self-deprecating jargon (when she bursts by saying she has body dysmorphia, the movie treats it as less of a diagnosis than a punchline). Maria Bakalova, as a foreign-born character who doesn’t have the gene for sarcasm, meta-irony, or any of her peers’ other decadent forms of communication, keeps us in a guessing game: is she innocent or psycho? In a way, the most toxic character is also the most compelling: Myha’la Herrold’s Jordan, the truth-teller who has Sophie’s number.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is Halina Reijn’s second feature, but she’s a seasoned actress who stages the film like a coasting banquet of actors. She works from a screenplay, by Sarah Delappe, which presents the relationships as something in a diagram, but the dialogue is sharp. There’s a message buried somewhere in all of this – that today’s 20-somethings are too obsessed with creating demons, often out of thin air, and bringing them down. Still, it’s not like the film doesn’t revel in it. In a way, this brings naughty girl culture to its logical conclusion, asking: what’s the point of having friends if they’re just the people you hate the most?