Directed by Halina Reijn, Bodies Bodies Bodies takes the enduringly popular social deduction game of “Mafia” or “Werewolf” and turns it into a darkly comic horror mystery featuring the young adults of the so-called Millennial or Gen Z generation (the characters seem to be on the border of these ill-defined age groups with the exception of the chill Gen X-er Greg, played by Lee Pace.) It is fascinating that a game about deception and murder is played during school field trips and Christian Bible camps, antithetical to the very nature of these extended social outings. But in Bodies Bodies Bodies (the name of the Mafia-like game in addition to the film), the game is not meant to unite but rather to further highlight division and intensify underlying sexual and emotional tension among these young vacationers.
From the arrival of Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) with her newish girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to a vacation house where some friends have gathered to camp out during a hurricane, we see the hackles rise in nearly all the characters, especially David (Pete Davidson) and Jordan (Myha’la Herrold). Stenberg’s presence clearly comes with a truckload of baggage but instead of outright hostility, their outwardly friendly dialogue is laced with innuendo and microaggressions. One of the best features of Bodies Bodies Bodies’ screenplay (penned by Sarah DeLappe with a story by Kristin Roupenian) is how it has its characters appropriate the language of social justice and “wokeness” to mask their deep narcissism and to distract from the great privilege that nearly all of them were born into.
After a drug and sex-fueled dance party, a game of Bodies Bodies Bodies is suggested. The game starts out innocently enough, though the first round of the game gives a hint of the excellent handheld camera work that will characterize much of this film. Soon, however, the game devolves into an all too real game of murder and suspicion, which is exacerbated by a power outage caused by the hurricane and the elimination of any means to communicate or travel to the outside world.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is more of a suspense film than a horror one. Not that it’s entirely devoid of jump scares and the horror genre’s characteristically tight framing, but its greatest strength may be the different sorts of tension that it plays with and how well it manages to manipulate audience loyalties. Not that horror can’t do the same, but Bodies Bodies Bodies doesn’t necessarily traffick in dread and inevitability as much as many horror films do. For instance, it’s easy to see Lee Pace as the obvious suspect as an older man with supposed military training. Yet when a gang of people all younger than him confront him with weapons, we can feel our emotional alliances possibly shifting. Perhaps who you sympathize with depends on factors such as your age, race, and/or sexual identiy, but the way that the film frames encounters like these is very deft visual and literary storytelling.
Where the film was a bit lacking was the interweaving of the character-driven drama with its genre elements. The film stops dead in its tracks while characters hash out past resentments and hidden drama. It is also in these scenes where we see the characters at their most narcissistic and annoying, quite deliberately so. Characters debate about the real amount of work it takes to produce a podcast or whether someone is “upper middle class” or not. If this scene were taken out of context, it could be seen as an example of the “wokeness” plaguing popular entertainment today by Internet trolls with little to no media literacy. These scenes are saved somewhat by strong performances. Rachel Sennott seems to have the millennial hot mess role down pat between her Anna in this film and her character in last year’s Shiva Baby. Maria Bakalova as an outsider in terms of her status within this friend group and her economic standing is also a very necessary antidote to the suffocating bubble of privilege that she finds herself in, and she manages to balance vulnerability and resourcefulness very well in her performance.
Ultimately Bodies Bodies Bodies’ sum is ultimately greater than its parts. The way the story unfolds and the strong technical work especially with the claustrophobic cinematography and the sound and set design manage to tell the old trapped-in-the-house premise in an interesting way. The parts where it is weak will inevitably be willfully misinterpreted and disassociated completely from context, namely some of the more obvious appropriation of woke language, but its overall impact leaves the audience with a deliciously dark irony that will make you appreciate what the filmmakers have crafted.