Give BODIES BODIES BODIES this: they really know how to fill a room with some of the most annoying people you could find in a Twitter group chat and make their blood-drenched accusations and barbs ring with intensity and comedy. With that oh so cool A24 backing, a cast of up and comers (and tall ass Lee Pace), and a pulsating soundtrack courtesy of the ever reliable Disasterpiece, director Halina Reijn and writers Sarah DeLappe and Kristen Roupenian deliver a slick whodunnit for the logged on era.
Shacking up for a “hurricane party” in a cozy yet conspicuously lit mansion in the New York mountains, a group of twenty-something “friends” reunite to party the storm away. However, from the moment Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) brings her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to meet her friends consisting of the podcasting Alice (Rachel Sennott, stealing the show), actress Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), jokester David (Pete Davidson), and the tense Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), an air of resentment and buried bitterness comes out as quick as the booze and drugs. And that’s before the lights go out and someone ends up with their throat slit! So to say the least, things are taking a turn for the “not chill” for this group of rich kids.
Drenched in a suffocating darkness for the majority of its runtime, BODIES shifts to a surprisingly tense outing in hide and seek as everyone tries to figure out who’s killing who. Cinematographer Jasper Wolf, initially framing the film as a sort of wispy and colorful depiction of affluent youths going wild, shows just as much comfort in the dark corners of the house where paranoia and violence lie. Lit by only the spare light of someone’s phone flash or glow in the dark necklaces, Reijn lets every delectable creak of the floor or moan of the storm push the film towards horror but DeLappe and Roupenian’s script mostly manages to keep any true darkness at bay as the characters involved in a violent whodunnit react about as well as one would expect a house full of terrified, perpetually online rich kids to react. In a vacuum, most of these vapid, backstabbing, bickering characters would be overwhelming in their annoyance but the writers and director train a delighted look at these characters as they squirm in a tense situation.
As with any situation involving young adults, juicy secrets and resentments are uncovered but these reveals do not do much to add any emotional heft to the story. At times the film can’t seem to determine if it should pity or sympathize with its lot of hung up youths, but it struggles even more to really connect with Bakalova’s Bee, the destined outsider who is doomed to wander the halls of the mansion and look at the selfish characters around her with a confused look. Considering the great work Bakalova’s shown in comedy, it’s a shame she never gets any moments to show off her chops in her straight faced character. Sennott on the other hand, showing a talent for comic delivery in SHIVA BABY, is blessed with taking on the film’s funniest character Alice, who, even as a one note character drenched in aloofness, is turned vibrant thanks to Sennott’s lovably whiny performance. It’s hard to make a line about one’s own podcast resonate comedically and somewhat tragically but Sennott proves wonders in her moments to shine. Elsewhere, Herrold brings a rabid authenticity to Jordan’s from-the-jump jealousy aimed at nearly everyone, at times, fitting in well into the shoes of an action hero (just one who also happens to have real relationship hang-ups). It’s hard to say you’ll care about anyone that shows up onscreen but the actors as a unit bring enough chops to make their solo moments match the film’s glitzy and bruised style.
As it ambles towards a simply obvious yet very funny reveal, BODIES seems content to end in a muted fashion. It doesn’t ruin the movie but it makes for a strange last minute shift to end on essentially a shrug. Then again, just like its characters, maybe that was the only way to react to what’s been shown on the screen.