Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
Director: Halina Reijn
Screenwriter: Sarah Delappe
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Myha’la Herrold, Chase Sui Wonders, Rachel Sennott, Lee Pace, Pete Davidson
Featuring an ensemble cast of names that have appeared in a variety of projects – from Amandla Stenberg whose breakout role as Rue in The Hunger Games made audiences weep in their cinema seats back in 2012, to Lee Pace whose filmography has included many pop-culture delights such as Garret from Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Halina Reijn’s third directorial project Bodies Bodies Bodies has hit the big screen, making an unknown actor-director a new name amongst the comedy-horror fanbase.
Beginning with the arrival of young couple Sophie (Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova) to a large mansion hidden behind security gates, the guests making up Bodies Bodies Bodies’ cast prepare for a hurricane party hosted by Pete Davidson’s David. As the night closes in, we are introduced to the tensions in the friendship group, with a murder-themed party game becoming the deadly trigger for chaos as the storm breaks outside.
The majority of Bodies Bodies Bodies takes place in the dark as the hurricane causes a power outage, this plotline feeling akin to “the-killer-cut-the-phonelines” trope but adopted for the ultra-connected contemporary age. This increases the panic factor, with the characters’ stress spiking to new levels as they lose their connections to the outside world. The inherent scariness of not knowing what lies just beyond their line of sight is compounded as light sources appear mainly in the form of the characters’ phone torches as they run through the house, which in approach comes across as a fun nod to horror films like The Blair Witch Project which used limited lighting as a way to lean on what you can’t see as the biggest horror of them all. In its cinematography, this chaotic lighting is effective in aiding the chaos of the story while injecting a sense of realism that is found in using a less organized mode of lighting. The inclusion of tangled glow sticks draped around Rachel Sennott’s character ensures the lighting is used as a comedic tool too, which considering the comedy-horror genre is a smart move from cinematographer Jesper Wolf.
There are many shining talents in this film, the iPhone torch function being one of them, but it’s Rachel Sennott’s role as Alice that is most memorable, her quintessential Twitter voice and excellent comedic timing chimes in with stolen words from a jumble of internet discourse: “it’s ableist”, “I am an ally”, “he’s a libra-moon”. These moments mould the satire in the film, which soon feels like a twitter feed after a huge event, each character reacting and overreacting to every moment more dramatically than the next. The tip-tapping of phone keys becomes a staccato accompaniment to the shrill screams of its cast.
The casting choices have had their fair share of indie titles (notably Sennott’s appearance in Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby), but choosing actors who have had their time in the Tumblr-teen limelight feels like a smart decision when the project itself relies on the satire of gen-z online privilege and culture. Who else would celebrate a hurricane with drugs and drunken party games, if not a group made up of wealthy university graduates? They practice TikTok trends and dance to Azealia Banks’ “212” as the storm rages, safe inside their world, or so they think. It is Sophie’s girlfriend Bee (Bakalova), the quiet eastern-European woman with little privilege or wealth who is thrust into the party nervously holding homemade zucchini bread, who represents the outlier in this film. She represents the authenticity of people the others are socially removed from, both in class and culture, and it is made obvious as the characters make their not-so-subtle references to wealth, as if the huge houses are not obvious enough. While this isn’t the most cutting deconstruction of class found in film – certainly no Ken Loach creation – it is a meaningful aspect of the story that provides connection in a privileged and socially disconnected group.
The success and charm of this story is in its cast who are trapped in a sort of Lord of the Flies-esque derailment that threatens their friendships and their lives. At the heart of their story is distrust and inauthenticity that reveals their insecurities like an open wound. The whole story becomes a metaphor for the generation itself, and their relationship to the internet. They begin to see danger where it does not exist and refuse to understand nuance where it is, which leads to the climactic (or some would say anti-climactic) end.
Satirising gen-z culture is becoming more popular of an angle in contemporary horror, with topics such as content culture and social media performance interpreting the age-old horror tropes of figures in hidden masks and the impulse to exploit. Horror has always discussed the grotesque quirks of its audiences, from films like Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000) which portrayed the misogynist-sociopathic angles of yuppie culture, to Eugene Kotylarenko’s Spree (2020) starring Joe Keery who plays an attention-seeking uber driver who livestreams his kills.
At its core, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a film that knows its audience and the online world they live in. It plays well with its cast and their respective places on the internet, while understanding the nuances of Gen Z culture as something that can be fondly mocked. Halina Reijn has proved with this project that she is one to watch both in the horror and comedy genres, and her fun command of storytelling will leave you anxiously awaiting her next project. If you’re looking to poke fun at the kids or experience some top-notch ironic Twitter discourse, then this is a film that won’t disappoint. Although its horror elements do err on the side of caution, the comedy will leave you satisfied if the jump scares and blood-covered cast do not.