Monday, August 1, 2022


 by Rob DiCristino

Or: Clue-phoria

There’s nothing like the thrill of a murder mystery: On a dark and stormy night, a secluded mansion runs red with the blood of glamorous dilettantes, each of them scheming against the others for grievances that come to light as their numbers dwindle to zero. The killer bides their time among them until a grand reveal brings the labyrinthine plot into focus and everything suddenly makes sense. Then comes the finale, when the killer either executes their ultimate design or is brought to justice by a clever — typically mustachioed — detective. Murder mysteries may remain one of our oldest cinematic traditions, but the great ones strike a delicate balance: Everyone should be a suspect, so the characters must be dynamic but never completely transparent. The killer’s motives may be sympathetic, but their behavior should still be maniacal enough to give us the big-screen villain we find so seductive. Most importantly, we need a final twist that shows off the impossible intellect of our hero, the only one with the brains to put it all together in time to save the day.
And while we’ve left the more regal, Agatha Christie-esque fare in the capable hands of Rian Johnson and Kenneth Branagh, there’s plenty of room for filmmakers like Halina Reijn to bring something scrappier and more energetic to the old formulas. Her new Bodies Bodies Bodies opens on Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova) as they head for their first weekend getaway as a couple, a “hurricane party” at David’s (Pete Davidson) mansion — well, his parents’ mansion — where they’re joined by Alice (Rachel Sennott), Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), Greg (Lee Pace — yes, that one), and Jordan (Myha’la Herrold). As the hurricane rages outside, they settle in for a night of drug-fueled debauchery that — you guessed it — grows more tenuous as old resentments come to the fore. The tight-knit friends are suspicious of Bee and surprised by Sophie’s sudden return after a stint in rehab, which only exacerbates their panic after the power goes out and David turns up dead. Who is the killer? Who will survive? Will the Wifi come back on? Does anyone have any weed?

Written by Sarah DeLappe from a story by Kristen Roupenian, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a fresh and vibrant approach to the murder mystery that remains true to the traditional genre tropes without getting bogged-down in clue hunting or other whodunnit mechanics. The cast is a veritable who’s who of young Hollywood, led by the stars of The Hate U Give, Borat Subsequent Movie Film, Shiva Baby — and, you know, Pete Davidson. They’re an electric group with a sweaty, manic chemistry that aligns beautifully with the task at hand, and Reijn takes full advantage of the cavernous mansion setting to build suspense without getting too grandiose or melodramatic. The middle acts are lit almost entirely by cell phone flashlights, which add scale and texture to scenes that might otherwise feel underwhelming. Bodies Bodies Bodies is never scary, per se, but Reijn understands how to overwhelm her characters — and audience — with a claustrophobic atmosphere that feels as unwieldy and haphazard as the precocious, self-involved kids stumbling through it at any given moment.
And while Halina Reijn and her team clearly know the ins and outs of the genre, Bodies Bodies Bodies really comes to life when it’s subverting them, drawing more drama and intrigue from bickering exes and social media faux pas than from knife-wielding villains or elaborate traps and set pieces. Things get delightfully ridiculous as we twist and turn toward the final standoff, when failing to respond to the group chat or exaggerating your alleged “trauma” become offenses punishable by death. Much of the film’s dialogue can feel grating to anyone over twenty-five, but listening to these solipsistic, trust fund Zoomers self-destruct eventually becomes part of the fun and underlines some unexpected thematic depth. The hilarious Rachel Sennott shines brightest in these later stages, playing a very different kind of spoiled princess than she did in last year’s excellent Shiva Baby. Borat’s Maria Bakalova plays against type, as well, as her mild-mannered Bee is eventually forced to take charge of a situation that her girlfriend’s crew are too inept to handle themselves.
This isn’t to say that Bodies Bodies Bodies is punching down. One-percenters are technically people, too, and despite their wealth, privilege, and ignorance, we do come to care about these misfits as they’re slowly forced to cope with the very real effects of their half-baked decisions. Should it really matter right now whether or not Sophie slept with Jordan behind Bee’s back? Maybe not, but it’s still an absurd thrill to watch the blood-splattered lovers punch and claw over text message evidence as their friends lay gutted and decapitated around them. Stakes are relative, after all, so even the most vapid and inconsequential conflicts play with plenty of intensity when they’re important to our heroes. It’s this attention to character details that will keep Bodies Bodies Bodies atop the incoming heap of Euphoria-inspired Gen-Z media. It’s one of the first real cinematic time capsules of this era (era), the kind of movie that reminds us how overwhelming the world feels when we’re young, especially when our run-of-the-mill bikini mansion cocaine parties turn deadly.

Bodies Bodies Bodies hits theaters on Friday.

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