A24’s latest succumbs to excess as the body count and Twitter speak rise.
Like many movies about people who use their phones and social media in excess, each viewer’s individual enjoyment of director Halina Reijn’s Bodies, Bodies, Bodies may hinge on their tolerance for Twitter jargon. Newcomer Sarah DeLappe’s horror comedy screenplay is sharp and funny when it’s not bogged down by an excess of 2020s slang. The heavy use of internet-speak isn’t a problem for the first two acts. By the third act, though, it feels glaring.
Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (yes, I’ve been told one must say it all three times!) tells the story of a group of young friends, including recent rehab graduate Sophie (Amandla Stenberg, The Hate U Give) and her new girlfriend Bee (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm‘s breakout star Maria Bakalova). They gather at a remote country house owned by Sophie’s old friend Dave (Pete Davidson, doing a sort of parody of himself) for a weekend of debauchery.
Through a series of awkward, passive-aggressive conversations between the guests— and a mean-spirited party game called Bodies, Bodies, Bodies— we learn that Sophie is on the outs with most of her friends thanks to how she acted pre-rehab. DeLappe doles out exposition cleverly, never dumping it all into one character’s lines. It’s fun to learn about the well-drawn characters in bits and pieces through subtle (and less subtle) dialogue cues.
In part, this exposition style works here because the ensemble, composed chiefly of young women, is doing exemplary work. Stenberg is passionate as Sophie, sliding believably between fits of romantic bliss and bouts of scary calm as her character struggles to regulate her mental health in the presence of her toxic friends. Myha’la Herrold (Industry) brings a quiet intensity as outspoken Jordan, and Chase Sui Wonders (Generation) has some weepy moments used to great comedic effect as oversensitive aspiring actress Emma. Bakalova’s warm, loyal Bee serves as the closest thing in the film to an audience insert character. She proves yet again to be an undeniable screen presence.
However, Shiva Baby‘s Rachel Sennott absolutely steals the show. She is a wonderful physical comedian who moves through space uniquely as professional lifestyle podcaster Alice. Even the way she walks can be hilarious. Alice’s use of podcast jargon brings some of the movie’s best laughs. Whenever anyone asks what her show is about, she explains that she “sits down and talks to her smartest and funniest friends,” increasingly defensively and tearfully.
Along for the ride with Alice is an older man she met on Tinder, Greg (Lee Pace). Pace bounces off of Sennott wonderfully as the amiable himbo of the group. As per usual, he looks almost shockingly good, which the film addresses and works into the plot. In particular, Greg’s good looks and way with the women present maddens Davidson’s character. In setting the two against each other, the film uses every bit of the dynamic for comedic effect, including blocking that makes amusing use of the two actors’ uniquely tall frames.
Reijn and cinematographer Jasper Wolf (Instinct) make similarly clever use of the palatial home that serves as the film’s only setting. The remote mansion is plunged into darkness when a huge rainstorm knocks the power out. The characters must navigate using only flashlights and the light from their smartphones. They lose track of each other in the house, and so do we viewers. This disorienting effect works very well as it keeps the audience guessing until the end about who the killer or killers might be once the bodies begin to pile up. It also creates almost the feeling of “unreal geography” many horror fans might be familiar with from locations such as The Shining’s Overlook Hotel.
That being said, there are so many flashlight- or phone light-induced lens flares that it can start to feel visually exhausting by the time the third act rolls around. Unfortunately, that happens simultaneous to when the amount of Twitter slang gets dialed up to an inhuman and unbelievable level. The movie has been satirical up to this point, no doubt, but the characters felt grounded in some kind of reality. That all goes out the window in some of the most heated moments of confrontation, undercutting the actress’ stellar performances. The unmotivated, winking use of phrases like “facts are feelings” completely drains the tension from the room.
It’s also just unnecessary to load up the film with this much buzzwordy language. The characters’ fractured friendships, of which no two are alike, do much more to project the movie’s messages about disconnect and a lack of empathy in the digital age. The story’s most interesting part is how the women turn on each other and weaponize the old secrets they’ve accrued over years of friendship.
There’s some very dynamic use of water in Bodies. The violence of the rainstorm can make it feel like a secondary antagonist, as bloodthirsty or bent on revenge as whomever the potential killer might be. Most of the characters are small women, and at times it looks like the lashing rain might physically sweep them away, making escape from the country mansion impossible. Wolf also uses the property’s pool beautifully, showing characters plunged first beneath pristine, clear water at the film’s beginning and then, later, into the murky, muddy depths after the storm.
There are some amusing twists in store as the movie goes on, so this reviewer recommends knowing as little about the plot machinations as possible. There’s also a brief cameo that will make alt comedy fans scream.
Despite the rather exhausting overuse of Gen Z slang— or what adults imagine Gen Z slang to be— DeLappe, Reijn, and company stick the landing and bring the film to a satisfying conclusion that manages to answer all our questions without being too neat and tidy. Bodies, Bodies, Bodies is a perfectly enjoyable horror comedy to watch with a rowdy group of friends. Just don’t let them convince you to play the titular game afterward.
Bodies, Bodies, Bodies is stacking victims in theatres now.
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