Sure, it’s all fun and games until the bodies start piling up – and then it becomes even more fun!
Note that we said fun, not funny. Distributor A24 is selling Bodies Bodies Bodies as a horror-comedy, but that is not quite accurate. There is a certain absurdity to the the film’s chaotic events, which inclines viewers toward amusement, but this is not a spoof, nor does it aim for the sort of laughs that Ready or Not inspired while treading roughly similar territory. No, Bodies Bodies Bodies wants you to sit back and smirk at the the predicament of these spoiled rich-kids, who turn on each other like jackals when their titular parlor game unexpectedly escalates to lethal levels.
It all starts calmly enough. In fact, the first act does a good job of pretending to be a relationship drama with little foreshadowing of the horror to come. Sophie (Ajandla Stenberg) is bringing her new girlfriend Bee (Mara Bakalova) to meet her rich friends at a secluded mansion. Although the couple are hot and heavy into each other, Bee declines to reciprocate Sophie’s declaration of love – the film’s first indication that its relationships are more tenuous than they appear.
Sophie’s friends seem surprised, even resentful, when she shows up. The script and the performers do a good job of putting the vibe across so that we understand the underlying tensions long before any actual exposition clarifies the reasons (Sophie resents her friends for abandoning her after a stint in rehab; they resent her for the drug-fueled chaos she caused in their lives).
Similar tensions simmer within other characters, and the start boiling to the surface when Sophia suggests a game of “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” in which one player is selected by lot to be the murderer, who “kills” someone in the dark by touching their back, and then the others guess the identity.
The hostility behind the accusations go beyond what the game itself can justify, so it is hardly surprising when someone actually turns up dead later that night. The remaining characters conclude that someone is playing “Bodies Bodies Bodies” for real, and the remainder of the film becomes an exercise in paranoia as the group struggles to identify the killer. As the bodies pile up, process of elimination narrows the suspect list, ratcheting up the remaining survivors face off with friends and lovers whom they can no longer trust. Ultimately, this boils down to a confrontation that echoes the final scene between MacReady and Childs in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – another film in which the characters could not trust their own comrades.
Whereas Ready or Not was all about family, Bodies Bodies Bodies is about friends – and relationships – of the most toxic kind. This supposedly tight-knit group quickly devolves into mutual hostility, flinging personal accusations at each other which are accurate, while flimsily brushing off their own equally pernicious failings. As the situation grows more desperate, the characters are reduced to justifying their behavior with buzz words like “ableism,” and everyone seems to be conveniently suffering from a trendy syndrome of some kind. The poster’s tagline “This is not a safe space” seems to pitch the film as a satire of liberal snowflakes, but these privileged narcissists are far from liberal; instead, they seem to be draping themselves in liberal jargon to hide their own deficiencies.
The actual satirical intent lies elsewhere. The focus on vicious invective suggests a horror-movie variation on Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel – this is another film in which the polite veneer is stripped away from a group of upper-class friends trapped in an isolated setting, exposing humanity as base and society as something of a sham.
At the same time, Bodies Bodies Bodies work on a basic narrative level as a credible mystery-horror film. The script offers good reasons for why cell phones don’t work and why the characters cannot simply leave. More important, the story fiddles with the usual genre tropes to keep audience members on their toes as they try to guess the murderer.
In one clever ploy, Bee is introduced as the “outsider,” with little clearly established backstory. Is she as sweet and innocent as she seems, or is she hiding something? Meanwhile, it turns out she is not the only outsider. Greg (Lee Pace), the new boyfriend of Alice (Rachel Sennott), is another newcomer, so suspicion initially falls on him, leaving us wondering whether the film is trying to distract us from Bee. Even Sophie has become a bit of an outsider since her time in rehab; of all the characters, she seems to have the most motivation to hate the others. And as a sort of wild-card, the dialogue is peppered with references to an unseen Max, who punched out David (Peter Davidson) and took off with the only working car before the film began. Could it be that he has snuck back to commit the murders, or is he merely a red herring?
By toying with expectations in this way, the filmmakers eventually induces an audience state of mind highly unusual for the mystery-horror genre. Much of the action is driven by fear, with viewers and characters alike uncertain whether people wielding weapons are protecting themselves or attempting murder, and self-defense contributing innocent victims to the body count. We realize that the murderer’s identity may not matter, because these characters are so awful that, whatever the catalyst, all of them were primed to kill each other. This could have led to a wishy-washing copout ending, but the film’s final revelation is a stroke of genius that wraps everything up perfectly. We cannot say more without giving away too much.
Hollywood Gothique's rating of Bodies Bodies Bodies
With a good premise, good script, good performances, and good execution, Bodies Bodies Bodies is an entertaining body-count film that offers a clever spin on the Ten Little Indians template, leading to a wicked conclusion every bit as innovative as Agatha Christie’s original. As good as the film is, however, it feels as if it were trying to be better. The character interaction is engaging as mutual suspicion erupts into antagonism, but making everyone into a suspect distances viewers from the action. The film compensates for this asking us to smirk at their predicament, but one gets the feeling there were supposed to be a few more laughs – it’s fun but not quite funny. Also, the setup, though effective at introducing and establishing characters with a minimum of exposition, goes on for longer than it should; even at 95 minutes, the film feels slow in its early section.
Technical credits are solid, but the cinematographer’s attempts to simulate an actual lights-out situation after the generator dies is a little too effective; though the broad strokes are still visible, small details are sometimes lost, leaving viewers scratching their heads: What was Sophie looking for? What did she hand to Emma? Ultimately the dialogue clears up any confusion, but a few more lumens could have avoided unnecessary confusion.
Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile and original effort.
Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022). Director by Halina Reijn. Written by Sarah DeLappe from a story by Kristen Roupenian. Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders, Pete Davidson, Myha’la Herrold, Lee Pace. Rated R. 95 mins. A24 Films. U.S. Release Date: August 5, 2022.