“They’re not as nihilistic as they look online,” Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) tells her new friend Bee (Maria Bakalova) in the A24 horror film. Bodies Bodies Bodies, as they move to join Sophie’s friends at a gathering. Sophie and Bee have been in a relationship for six weeks and go to a house party at the family estate of Sophie’s best friend David (Pete Davidson). They plan to weather the approaching hurricane, but Sophie’s mysterious whims are an equal disaster: it turns out that her “not as nihilistic as she seems” group of friends don’t even expect her to show up, much less show up with a partner they don’t know. Considering how quickly an escape devolves into bloody mayhem, it’s not a good time to be the new girl in the crowd.
Bodies Bodies Bodies not particularly an internet movie; the hurricane quickly knocks out the power at David’s house, and cell service and Wi-Fi go down. The most contentious arguments involve semi-private complaints rather than public tweets. But Sophie’s first attempt to soften her friends’ abrasiveness remains with the audience as the night unfolds spectacularly. True, these people do not seem particularly nihilistic. At the same time, they are all surprisingly willing to suspect each other of murder.
Bodies Bodies Bodies begins as a social anxiety drama, nothing else Baby Shiva, a symphony of discomfort starring Rachel Sennott, who also appears here, stealing scenes as Sophie’s friend Alice. The film also introduces Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), who is dating David; Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), who looks askance at almost everyone; and Greg (Lee Pace), an older guy with whom Alice was even shorter than Sophie and Bee. Aside from Greg, the characters occupy the vague age range of adults. Given their reckless substance abuse and carelessness towards each other, they are somewhere between too young and too old.
Watching them doze off to each other, it’s staggering to think how canned and over-polished most horror movie friend groups are. Bodies Bodies Bodies in the end it turns out to be a horror; it even opens with a parlor game that’s just as flashy in a second-rate Blumhouse title, though director Halina Reijn and screenwriter Sarah DeLappe (based on the story “Cat Man” author Kristen Roupenian) shows little interest in following this system. The power goes out unexpectedly, and the friends go from searching for the pretend killer to a real scare when someone actually dies. (There is some uncertainty as to which semi-celebrity will be the first surprise victim.)
From there, Bodies Bodies Bodies starts playing as compressed Scream, sped up as if the filmmakers believed they were starring in a generation that can’t take their eyes off a feature film. The filmmakers make a compelling choice to simultaneously increase the bloodshed and absurdity. Instead of letting satire give way to horror movie tension, they make accusations and defenses louder and funnier as the characters feel more in danger. At one point, mortal danger is punctuated by a betrayal so shocking that one friend can hate listening to another’s podcast.
Still, the film seems to switch freely between the satirical edge and the knife edge, as it ultimately doesn’t have much to say in either mode. Sometimes it’s a relief Bodies he doesn’t seem to have any overarching metaphor up his sleeve. In one scene, the characters unleash a giddy chant at each other out of fear and rage, as if to vehemently rebuke David’s original complaint that the word “gaslighting” has lost all meaning. (The movie doesn’t turn social media into a hook, but its language online is pretty good.)
The cast is all solid, but Sennott is especially funny as Alice, who treats every horrible turn as a slight against her personally. Ultimately, the film is more of a mischievous thought experiment than an attack on the Zoomers; It essentially asks, “What if people who were very aware of their own causes and traumas had to react to a terrible turn of events in a horror movie?”
However, as the film progresses, the horror aspect fails to materialize. Reign’s lighting aesthetic of glow sticks and flashlights is neat at first, but the sheer amount of shaky camera, close-ups, and streaks of harsh lighting end up reminiscent of found-footage horror, without the unsettling sense of reality that the subgenre’s better entries provide. This is also for the movie titled Bodies Bodies Bodiessurprisingly neutral about how young people use, abuse and manipulate their bodies and how this can affect their physical response to danger.
Understandable, but the instinct of the restraining developers is to play A hint with characters. This means that Bee, one of his potentially most interesting characters, has to remain relatively opaque in order to preserve some mystery in a film that is running out of suspects pretty quickly. Despite the closeness of the camera, this is a handheld horror film; Reijn and DeLappe don’t seem as interested in real fears as they are in jokingly confirming any suspicions that, yes, your friends are secretly talking about you. Bodies Bodies Bodies is a fun ride through those valid anxieties, but as the end credits roll, some viewers may still be waiting for a bigger punch or a better punch.
Bodies Bodies Bodies will open in limited theatrical release on August 5th and nationwide on August 12th.