In “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” a group of rich kids — five old friends, along with a couple of not-so-significant others — gather for a hurricane party at the pastoral suburban mansion of one of their parents. What’s a hurricane party? A storm has been predicted, and they’re using that as an excuse to barricade themselves inside, so that they can dance to TikTok videos and toot cocaine and play games, including one that describes their more-or-less constant state of being: reading each other, one-upping each other, challenging each other like claw-baring rivals on a reality show. This, according to the film’s satirical vision, is what friendship has come to in the age of social-media backbiting.
The director, Halina Reijn, works in what you might call the in-your-face school of twentysomething head-game melodrama. As soon as Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her new squeeze, Bee (Maria Bakalova, from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) show up to find the others lounging in the pool, the perky hostility commences. The characters get in each other’s faces, and the movie gets in our face; much of it is shot in close-up, in the semi-darkness (at one point a power generator gives out), with the storm raging outside, so that the audience feels like it’s part of the pressure cooker.
Yet “Bodies Bodies Bodies” also has a fast and witty aggro tone. David, whose parents own the house, is played by Pete Davidson with a black eye that makes him look like a panda, and as soon as you’ve got Pete Davidson in your movie, doing that thing he does (being a stunted bad boy, then spewing out an observation so sharp that it undercuts his outrageous obtuseness), you’re cueing the audience to treat everything that’s happening as a lark.
Not far into the evening, the characters decide to play the game in which you “kill” someone by touching them, and everyone has to figure out who the killer is. (On the few occasions I’ve been coerced into playing this game, I’ve never totally understood how the rules work.) When they’re all in the living room, trying to name this or that person as the killer, the tension ratchets up. They’re taking this very seriously! (Their lives are just a show, mere fodder for competitive conversation. But a game is something you don’t f—k with.) They all seem to know each other’s secrets, and after it’s revealed that one character’s romantic relationship is riddled with a sexual problem, the character stalks off in a huff. Moments later, their throat has been sliced wide open. The knowingly histrionic zoomer soap opera has become a slasher movie.
Whodunnit? We have no idea, but the implication is that it’s one of the people on hand. For years, the whole youth-slasher-movie paradigm — first this kid gets killed off, then that kid, then this kid — has been traced back to the murder-mystery form invented by Agatha Christie in “And Then There Were None.” “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” with its restless camera movement and improv-style acting and general overdramatic rambunctiousness, is like “And Then There Were None” staged by John Cassavetes for the age of Instagram.
So it is, you know, fun? In “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” people keep getting bumped off, but in an odd way the movie isn’t a horror film (and that could limit it commercially). The slasher is not some looming mythic force of evil — and, in fact, a couple of the killings are committed right in front of us, by characters we can see. Greg (Lee Pace), the token older member of the group — he’s the strapping woodsy 40ish dude who’s been dating Alice (Rachel Sennott) — is thought of as an outsider, so when he’s lying down in the basement gym meditating under his light-therapy mask, the women surround him as if he’s the killer. There are weapons on hand, and they’re soon being brandished. The fear and paranoia escalate; the more Greg tries to protect himself, the more he looks like he’s threatening them. It’s an explosive sequence that culminates in an act of violence from the last person we were expecting to do it.
So who’s the killer?
We’re hungry to know, yet the answer, right until the superb twist ending, remains just out of reach (even though it’s right in front of us). The clues, however, take the form of each character revealing who, exactly, she is. And the actors are good enough to make that a watchable proposition. Amandla Stenberg’s Sophie is the relatively warm and sane and romantic one, until it’s revealed that she’s not. Chase Sui Wonders plays Emma, David’s longtime girlfriend, as his shame-faced enabler, and Rachel Sennott, as Alice, creates a neurotically funny paragon of self-deprecating jargon (when she bursts out that she’s got body dysmorphia, the movie treats it as less diagnosis than punchline). Maria Bakalova, as the foreign-born character who lacks a gene for sarcasm, meta-irony, or any of the other decadent communication forms of her peers, keeps us in a running guessing game: Is she innocent or psycho? In a way, the most toxic character is also the most compelling: Myha’la Herrold’s Jordan, the truth-teller who’s got Sophie’s number.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is Halina Reijn’s second feature, but she’s a veteran actor who stages the movie as a freewheeling actors’ banquet. She’s working from a script, by Sarah Delappe, that lays out the relationships like something in a diagram, but the dialogue is blade-sharp. There’s a message buried somewhere in all this — about how today’s twentysomethings are too obsessed with creating demons, often out of thin air, and knocking them down. Yet it’s not as if the movie doesn’t revel in that. In a way, it takes mean-girl culture to its logical conclusion, asking: What’s the point of having friends if they’re simply the people you’re most comfortable hating?
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