There’s something very sly going on in the new whodunnit entitled BODIES BODIES BODIES. It’s being marketed as a Generation Z whodunnit, almost like the cast of EUPHORIA walked into a reboot of SCREAM in its way, but it’s much slyer than a pitch that obvious. Yes, the cast is self-absorbed 20-somethings who flaunt their sexuality, drug use, and social media profiles as brazenly as the latest Rue21 fashions. And indeed, there is plenty of carnage here to compete with almost any horror film that comes down the pike. But as the film spools out, it becomes more and more a slow-burn examination of lies friends tell each other and themselves, and ultimately, how we as moviegoers tend to fall for similar misdirects. It makes for an exceedingly clever rug pull of a story, both for those characters in it, and us in the audience watching it.
The story starts with a young female couple, exchanging passionate kisses in tight, close-ups. The two women are the assertive Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova), her sensual, shy girlfriend of a few months. They join a pool party already in progress at a mansion inhabited by one uninhibited guest after another.
David (Pete Davidson), is the snarky rich-kid host of the get-together, turning his parents’ mansion into a sex and drug pit for the weekend. His girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) is an emotional actress-type who thinks flirting is conversation. Podcaster Alice (a hilarious Rachel Sennott) is the narcissistic kind who overshares everything, including boasting about her decades-older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) she’s only known for two weeks. Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) rounds out the crew and she’s easily the smartest one in the room, as well as the first to tell you so. Jordan has a lot of history with Sophie, as they all do with each other, and the past will come flooding out as soon as a hurricane starts flooding the grounds with rain and wind.
Waiting for the storm to arrive, everyone moves inside and indulges in cocaine, tequila, and smack talk. They indulge in the parlor game “Bodies Bodies Bodies” where a fake whodunnit will soon be upended by a real one, and as they play, hostility floods over everyone. Their vicious tongues will only get worse as they’re cut off from their cellphones by a power outage that plummets the house into darkness as well.
The film is chock full of symbolism like that, adding layers to the story and dimension to the relationships at hand. Then, after some juicy arguing, one of the brood ends up dead outside with their throat cut. Whodunnit? As the friends try to figure out which of them is homicidal, literal and figurative knives come out. They all try to defend themselves physically from each other, and from the verbal accusations being hurled about. Some friends, huh?
Of course, we in the audience are trying to play detective too and are prone to believe too much of what we see or think we’re seeing. Soon enough, we can’t be sure of anyone’s motives, sincerity, or history. And as the options of the guests become more and more desperate, with bodies bodies bodies piling up, the mystery gets tenser and also, darkly funny. They may all live on social media, but social kindnesses go out the window once the sweater starts to unravel.
The cast is uniformly good, with Herrold and Stenberg standing out as the two alphas battling for dominance as sleuths. Bakalova has the trickiest part being the interloper, but she keeps us guessing whether she’s a good girl or a bad one. Director Helina Reijn keeps things percolating along, never wasting a shot or moment, yet giving her cast plenty of room to build their characters. Her writers Sarah DeLappe and Kristen Roupenian do sharp work here, embracing the genre’s tropes as well as usurping them. Sometimes, simultaneously.
BODIES BODIES BODIES is funny, shrewd, and often scary as well. Its fun comes from watching young people who are supposed to be friends become monstrous. Their attempts to justify their thoughts and actions with “woke” language and motivations is a stitch too. As is watching the story pull the rug out from all of them, and us in the audience too.