People behaving badly can sometimes be among the most entertaining types of films, as the spectacle of them giving in to their basest instincts is great escapism for many who would rarely, if ever, dare to indulge in such activities. That kind of story also gives the audience permission to pass judgment over the characters, condemning their actions while still being entertained by the malfeasance.
The filmmakers behind Bodies Bodies Bodies know this, and they load their story with all sorts of scenarios that the audience can second-guess. A group of entitled twenty-something friends has gathered for a hurricane party, hoping to have some blackout revelry as the storm rolls through. The group includes Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova), couple David (Pete Davidson) and Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), new couple Alice (Rachel Sennott) and Greg (Lee Pace), and the solo Jordan (Myha’la Herrold).
Along with the drinking and the drugs, they decide to play a game called “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” in which the lights are turned off, one person is secretly designated as “the killer,” and that person “kills” someone else simply by touching them. But when one of them actually turns up dead, confusion about the circumstances of that person’s death reigns supreme, and it’s not long before people starting turning on each other.
Directed by Halina Reijn and written by Sarah DeLappe, the film is a really fun play on the horror/comedy genre, accompanied by some nice digs at modern-day youth culture. The filmmakers establish early on that the group has a lot of internal strife, and the level of trust among them is relatively low for people who claim to be friends. Old rifts rise to the surface quickly, especially when things start to hit the fan.
We don’t get to know any of the characters that well, but that’s a plus for the story they’re trying to tell. Characters have over-the-top reactions to both small and big things, indicating both a hidden history among the group and the impetuousness of youth. Among the many hilarious things about the movie is the way it pokes fun at the psyches of members of Generation Z, using buzzwords like “triggered,” “safe space,” and others.
Though the film has some horror movie trappings — remote location, spotty cell service, blackouts — it’s clear that it’s not playing by strict horror movie rules. Sparse lighting in the form of glowsticks and smartphone flashlights ups the tension, often keeping the audience literally and figuratively in the dark, but the scenes induce laughter as much as they do fear. Violent acts that occur can be intense, but the petty infighting that accompanies the scenes helps lighten the mood.
The young cast is led by higher-profile actors like Stenberg, Davidson, and Bakalova, but they become a true ensemble as the film goes along. Davidson plays true to his Saturday Night Live persona, which is perfect for his role. Sennott stands out thanks to her character’s hysterics, and she steals many of the scenes she’s in. Pace is the odd man out as the oldest one of the group, but the age difference — and his performance — plays well for the story.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is a great antidote to a summer blockbuster season in which many films didn’t live up to their promise. It does a lot with a little, showcasing its cast and clever story to the utmost.
Bodies Bodies Bodies opens in theaters on August 12.