“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” director Halina Reijn’s Gen-Z satire clothed in trappings of a whodunnit from a story by Kristen Roupenian and screenplay by Sarah DeLappe, opens on a tender note. The camera caresses young couple Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and their girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) as they caress each other, Sophie even going so far as to tell Bee they love her (but that they don’t expect reciprocation). Then they approach their destination, the sprawling mansion home of Sophie’s old best friend David (Pete Davidson), and that sweet, quiet opening fast gives way to a raucous horror comedy.
Through the characters’ interactions over the course of the movie, we glean intel about just what their relationships with each other used to be, and what they are now. Sophie and all their friends are filthy rich; Bee is working class. Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) is an aspiring actress who’s dating David. Their friend Alice (Rachel Sennott) has a podcast and is seeing an older man (Greg, played effectively and hilariously by Lee Pace) she recently met on Tinder. They all seem to have a beef with Sophie’s sudden appearance at their hurricane party, none more so than Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), who appears especially hurt by the apparent lack of communication from Sophie recently. The film quickly establishes the group’s dynamic as they gather by the pool, ranging from phony friendliness to outright bitchiness, until the coming storm moves them inside the house, and the horror element comes into play. Sophie suggests that they play Bodies Bodies Bodies, a game where one person assumes the role of the killer and everyone else must hide from them until they determine who it is. But then the power goes out, and one of the friends turns up dead— for real.
It’s clear early on that none of these characters are likeable, so when the bodies start hitting the floor, we’re less frightened or nervous for them than intrigued. But making these characters empathetic is not the job of this cast, and they all perform admirably, each actor contributing a distinct personality that helps them all stand apart from each other even when they share the same shallow outlook. Sennott and Davidson provide the comedic highlights, with the former turning dialogue that may have been less funny in other hands into comedy gold, and the latter donning a slightly heightened version of his already familiar persona with a level of self-awareness. Stenberg and Herrold are more acid-humored in their delivery, and along Bakalova (who sadly doesn’t get to draw much on her excellent comedy chops here as much as the rest of the cast, although she’s still great as the fish-out-of-water) carry the bulk of the film’s dramatic heft when the material does venture into deeper waters. The film’s social critique and exploration of the intersection of class and race is tread over rather lightly, and despite the energetic personalities the actors bring to their performances, it takes a while for the film to start digging underneath their Instagram-ready personas to unearth the real humans that live inside. For most of the characters, we never get there, and as fun and wild as “Bodies Bodies Bodies” can be in its best parts, this holds the audience somewhat aloof. Still, there are some interesting thoughts that can be gleaned from the dialogue, such as Sophie feeling like their drug addiction (the characters slam shots and snort coke throughout the movie) was handled differently from their friends because they are Black.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is too light overall to ever feel scary or tense, and it isn’t gruesome like a slasher either. But Reijn’s direction is exceptional, taking advantage of the film’s single location setting. As the characters wander throughout the mansion, there is seemingly no end to the labyrinthine corridors and stairwells, and they are completely in the dark with only the harsh glare from their phone screens (and Alice’s glow stick-draped neck, an incredible costume detail) lighting their way. The movie’s biggest fault is perhaps that it actually becomes less intriguing the more the group’s number dwindle, and it feels like everyone is circling each other without making any progress. But it’s also that subversion of whodunnit cliches that makes “Bodies Bodies Bodies” interesting to consider even when it isn’t always as engaging to watch. When it ends, there’s a sense of “that’s all?” but also “that’s perfect.” As a cautionary tale of the consequences of overblown egos and Gen-Z shallowness (even the title is as much an allusion to a culture focused on the physical as much as it is about dead people), it makes its subjects easier to poke fun at than to emphasize with, and for once, that’s okay. While the conclusion leaves little doubt as to the mystery’s solution, it still finishes with questions in a scene that recalls that opening moment. Whereas the beginning of the film depicted a couple confident in their affection for each other, the ending— the once pristine pool deck now muddy and messy— leaves us with a couple whose future is now in question, the moral reckoning that will have to occur offscreen looming on the horizon.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 94 minutes. Rated R.