“There’s a lot of good stuff going on here, but the problems arise when the film strings itself along for too long, trying to drive a point home or to elongate a scene beyond what it’s already established about what it wants to say.”
by Ken Bakely
If nothing else, there isn’t a single spare second of Bodies Bodies Bodies. It’s a messy movie, which very much cuts both ways, but it’s bold in spirit and uncompromising in its execution, even if the substance of its execution can leave something to be desired. Directing from a script by Sarah DeLappe (with a story by Kristen Roupenian), Halina Reijn juggles an array of eccentric characters – though, naturally for the territory of a murder mystery, also a slowly decreasing number of them – who all advance a chaotic story that’s rife with satire of the archetype of the Very Online, affluent twentysomething that most of them are members of. It all begins when Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her girlfriend, Bee (Maria Bakalova), drop by a mansion owned by David (Pete Davidson) for a party he’s throwing as a powerful hurricane barrels down on the area. Jordan (Myha’la Harold), Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), and Alice (Rachel Sennott) are also of their age group and milieu, with the sole exception being Alice’s middle-aged partner, Greg (Lee Pace). With the storm keeping them all inside, they decide to pass the time by playing one of those party games where one of their number “kills” off the other guests, and they’re left to guess who it is. But it’s not long before the power goes out and people actually start turning up dead, and as the situation inside turns as treacherous and deadly as the one outside, rivalries emerge, secrets are revealed, and personal grievances are picked with aplomb as they try to figure out who is responsible for the lethal carnage.
It doesn’t take much for some of these young characters to turn against each other – even though some have ostensibly been friends since childhood – because there’s always an edge to their interactions from the start that indicates something fundamentally bleak about how they see each other. Some of Bodies Bodies Bodies’ best moments come when it lets its capable cast play off each other, from caustic barbs to bizarre tangents that underline the characters’ eccentricities. That’s the heart of the movie. It skewers the self-promoting tendencies of a certain subset of Zoomer, where everything in their lives are commodified, from their worldviews to their personal traumas, and used in an endless cycle of narcissistic oneupsmanship; a constant contest of who is the purest of heart and spirit, who can perform the most aesthetically progressive politics, and who can rise up on a perch to take others down. It all indicates a profound lack of social trust, which is on display in spades here as the group splinters apart, stuck in a dark, cavernous estate as the slayings continue.
Ironically for such a high-stakes situation, DeLappe’s script is funniest and sharpest in simple interactions and quickfire jokes. Bodies Bodies Bodies loses some of its steam when it loads much of its satire into lengthy, pivotal sequences that stop the movie cold for minutes on end, as it draws out its characters’ most unsavory tendencies to have them argue at length. There’s a lot of good stuff going on here, but the problems arise when the film strings itself along for too long, trying to drive a point home or to elongate a scene beyond what it’s already established about what it wants to say. It’s actually small, throwaway pieces within those scenes that push the deepest to the movie’s center – such as a brief line in which a party guest proclaims themselves working class because their parents are professors at a public university – and accomplish nearly as much as the climactic action and expansive exposition that’s spilled around them.
The story is convoluted, though this turns out to be for good reason once the final twist is revealed, but the film delivers its underlying commentary in jumbled ways that don’t track at all. And again, it’s representative of Bodies Bodies Bodies’ erratic and mixed achievements in how that all shakes out. Reijns winds the movie up with a final twist that perfectly sums up the mockery her film has lobbed at its myopic characters and their extreme behavior, but for all the red herrings that the movie throws at us on the way there, it’s a long way to go for the payoff, even if it is intentional. Again, there’s this feeling of the story’s core getting lost in an occasionally scattershot journey. Everything is perfectly clarified by the last scene in no more than a few words. It’s economical but brutally incisive about everything it’s been trying to say, but that same deliberation and expedience is missing from a lot of what came before. There are certainly moments when Bodies Bodies Bodies rips with a fiery energy, and it’s often fun to watch from minute to minute, but it’s got to keep moving.