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‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’ a sharp, darkly funny satire

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There’s something fascinating about watching a new generation make its way onto film. Time’s march is inevitable, so it stands to reason that new cohorts will become focal points of the movies being made. And each of those cohorts will bring a new and different energy to the stories being told, both in terms of style and of substance.

One could argue that we’re currently witnessing a transitional period wherein the Gen-Z crowd is beginning to see itself on the big screen. This is a generation that was shaped more fully by the internet than any that came before, people whose lives have been lived online as much as off – reductive, I know, but as shorthand, it’ll do.

“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the English-language directorial debut of acclaimed Dutch actor Halina Reijn, is a horror/comedy that places the young people of Generation Z in the center of the frame, skewering the social mores – or lack thereof – of that group with pitch black humor and razor-sharp satire, powering it all with a collection of strong performances.

The screenplay, as adapted by Sarah DeLappe from a short story by Kristen Roupenian, is a dense collection of rapid-fire banter, equal parts clever and cutting, all flying forth from the mouths of a group of self-obsessed and deeply unlikeable characters. It’s a movie unafraid to plumb the shadows, both literally and figuratively, as it deconstructs the disconnect cultivated by those whose existences are defined not by who they are, but how they are seen.

Bee (Maria Bakalova) is still in the early stages of her relationship with new girlfriend Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), though things are moving rather quickly. So quickly, in fact, that Sophie decides to bring Bee with her to a hurricane party being thrown by some of her friends.

Upon their arrival at the palatial mansion where the party takes place, we quickly meet the rest of the partygoers. David (Pete Davidson) is the ostensible host and Sophie’s best friend; the house belongs to his parents. Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) is David’s girlfriend, a somewhat insecure actress. Wannabe podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) is here with her new boyfriend, an older guy named Greg (Lee Pace) that no one really knows. Flying solo is Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), whose demeanor is difficult for Bee to pin down. Oh, and another guy named Max apparently left the party for reasons that are never really explained.

When the storm starts, the group decides to play “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” a party game wherein one person is deemed the “murderer” and tries to “murder” the others without being fingered as the killer. It’s all supposed to be in good fun, although it is evident early on that there is A LOT of friction amongst these so-called friends, with all manner of passive-aggressive (and occasional aggressive-aggressive) words and actions being exchanged. Bee, as an outsider, struggles to feel comfortable in the midst of so much unchecked privilege – this is a world with which she is very much unfamiliar.

But when the bodies start piling up – actual bodies – these supposed friends quickly begin turning on one another, with hurled accusations mingling with old resentments and revealed secrets. One by one, they are being picked off, and while everyone is more than happy to point fingers, no one seems equipped to deal with the reality of their circumstances. And with each bloody body that is discovered, the poisonous energy increases exponentially. Forget surviving the murderer among them – can they even survive each other?

I’ll be real: I don’t remember a time when a movie made me feel quite as old as this one did. This isn’t a criticism, by the way – I am fully aware of my age and the fact that I am not the target demographic for the film. And the truth is that I still dug the movie, even if it was centered on people whose world is generationally different than my own. In the immortal words of Abe Simpson: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. No what I’m with isn’t it anymore, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you!”

Despite the fact that I am no longer with it, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” still worked for me. The evocation of the self-absorption, the narcissism, the toxicity – all incredibly effective (and winked at in a very meta way numerous times throughout). The dark vapidity on display was unsettling in its own right, even without the periodic deaths. Yes, there’s an extremity to the proceedings – I’m not going to sit here and say that all Zoomers are selfish, jaded and/or arrogant – but that’s part of the fun. It’s when that envelope is pushed that the honed sharpness of the satire cuts deepest, and man, there are some DEEP cuts here.

Misinterpreted jargon and misplaced self-seriousness are abundant throughout, presenting a wall of words that nevertheless manages to not say much of anything. Everyone here is so sure of their own importance that they’ve lost the capacity for empathy or indeed independent thought, self-styled freethinkers that simply regurgitate what they’ve seen or heard from those who already agree with them.

Among the more impressive feats here is striking the character balance. Yes, there’s a shared unpleasantness among all of these people, but there’s a wonderful variety in the off-putting details; they’re similar in the macro sense, but different in the micro. It’s a fine line, but Reijn walks it beautifully.

Reijn also takes full aesthetic advantage of her singular location. A massive house with long windowless corridors and multiple spiral staircases, all sheathed in darkness because there’s no power? Such a great setting for a horror movie, allowing for so many choices – bold and subtle alike – to accentuate the tension while also offering an unspoken condemnation of what has to happen for a house like this one to even exist.

None of this works without great – not good, great – performances. Bakalova has perhaps the toughest job as our de facto audience surrogate. She is entering this space with little context, just as we are, so she must bear the weight of that storytelling even as the flashier performances orbit her. Stenberg is great as Sophie, struggling with her own demons even as she’s forced to fight against outside dangers both known and unknown. Davidson turns the douche-dial up to 11 here; he’s hit or miss for me as a rule, but when he’s able to lean into this particular flavor of jerk, he definitely hits. Herrold’s intensity as Jordan offsets the others wonderfully, even as her purported commitment to rationality ebbs and flows. Wonders projects vapidity throughout and Pace somehow manages to come off as both affable and vaguely menacing, while Sennott absolutely captures the delusional state of someone without anything to say who is still deeply committed to making sure everyone hears her say it. It is an excellent ensemble.

“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a well-crafted bit of dark comedy, a biting satire that blends comedic and horror elements into something clever, chilling and utterly compelling. This film might not have been aimed at me, but it hit the mark nevertheless.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 22 August 2022 10:29

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