Bodies Bodies Bodies, on its surface, is a movie I should instantly fall in love with. It is a light horror comedy riff on the whodunit with a cast so stacked with great young talent that I almost couldn’t believe it when it was announced. Drop the cherry on top that it is an A24 picture, and my fears that this was a half-thought-out satire churned out as a genre programmer went out the window.
Churned out genre programmer Bodies Bodies Bodies is not. As for the satire, I must admit I was unimpressed. Early buzz from critics and audiences alike is positive, and I will settle with being the minority opinion. If the premise, the cast, the studio, the composer (Disasterpeace, yes please!), and/or the genre play entices you as it initially enticed me, then you should give this one a shot.
I struggled early to get on this film’s wavelength. I new it was there. I could feel its vibrations. But from act one, it eluded me. Things were fishy when the inciting incident was clearly around the corner and I still lacked a firm understanding of who any of these characters were as people. Nuggets were dropped about characters’ pasts, but it was clear that this was only done so that the third act could produce a slew of red herrings from secrets being revealed. (By the time these secrets come to light, though, the mystery is on the verge of unraveling into total clarity).
These characters, a group of people in their mid-20s, play a game of “bodies, bodies, bodies” during a party (which is during a hurricane). It is a game where one character plays a murderer and tries to kill the other players without getting caught. They turn out the lights, and when someone discovers a body, they yell, “bodies bodies bodies!” Then, the power goes out for real. And a body is found. For real.
It is a cute mirroring between performance and reality, which comes full circle when the characters’ performative selves give way to accusations and lies. As the film devolves into the chaos of these accusations, the script amps up its satirical image of the newly adulting generation Z. And I rarely found this as amusing as the film does.
There are moments, to be sure, and the levity of the generational poking fun is a sound grounding for this sort of genre film. The digs at raised-on-smartphone youths, while not mean-spirited, read largely facile. Gen Z is painted as unable to form true connections and lost in their own emotional labor, and the comedic brushstrokes are simply too broad. The more than capable cast is left with little character to work with.
Amandla Stenberg and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm breakout Maria Bakalova are the ostensible leads in this small ensemble, but neither is given much to do. Stenberg’s Sophie has unspoken baggage, which her friends hold over her and which ultimately play into the third act finger-pointing necessary for the final twist to be surprising. This withholding of information also causes the character to read as a total unknown.
The supporting cast, meanwhile, shines. Chase Sui Wonders and Lee Pace are playing great characters. Rachel Sennott (who gave one of my favorite performances last year in Shiva Baby) makes the most effective use of the script’s comedy. And Myha’la Herrold works well in the untrustworthy heel role (and as the counterpoint to the humor).
Visually speaking, this movie bothered me. Once the lights go out in this inscrutable mansion (it’s hard to know where anyone is in relation to others), the events are largely lit by phone lights and headlamps. The camera moves around, seemingly to build tension, but in most instances the space is too dim to generate suspense. This isn’t always the case — one sequence in which Pace’s Greg is discovered meditating in a gym is very tense, thanks in no small part to the camerawork and editing.
In other instances, though, the camera goes in so tight on groups of bodies (bodies bodies) and spins around to generate a sense of nausea. The tight composition and rapid movement are intentional choices, but the effect did not work for me.
Sonically, the film is slick. The performances are adept. But I didn’t find a lot of there there with Bodies Bodies Bodies. The humor works on occasion. The murder thriller aspect is toothless. And it all comes off a bit superficial. Perhaps Bodies Bodies Bodies is a victim of expectations, but this film’s wavelength and me did not get along.
Bodies Bodies Bodies: C+
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)