Review: In “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the Scares Just Aren’t There

This horror-comedy may have earned a rousing reception from critics at this year’s SXSW film festival but it has all the impact of a TikTok video
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Distributor A24’s new “slasher movie” Bodies Bodies Bodies comes up short, short, short in the scare department, which is a problem for a horror-comedy—even one that prioritizes humor over horror.

Directed by Dutch actor Halina Reijn (Instinct), the single-location film begins with Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) taking her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to a house party at a remote mansion just as a hurricane is about to strike. The newly sober Sophie hasn’t spoken to her wealthy friends in quite a while, thanks to a stint in rehab, and her arrival is something of a surprise to host David (Pete Davidson) and his guests Alice (Rachel Sennott), Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), and Greg (Lee Pace).

Following a heated game called Bodies Bodies Bodies, in which one member of the group is supposed to “kill” the rest before being detected, someone in the house actually winds up dead, prompting finger-pointing in all directions as friendships are tested and the body count continues to climb.

A24

It just so happens that I have followed the development of Bodies Bodies Bodies for more than four years. The buzzy screenplay was originally written on spec by Kristen Roupenian, whose New Yorker short story, “Cat Person,” went viral in late 2017; it marked the first script A24 ever purchased without a director attached. It was dubbed “the new Scream” (likely by people who never understood what made Scream work so well in the first place) and the project eventually attracted the attention of director Chloe Okuno, who eventually abandoned it when she got the opportunity to direct Watcher; that proved to be the superior genre film of the two.

Naturally, since this is Hollywood, after four years of development hell, Roupenian has only been left with story credit; the script for Bodies Bodies Bodies is credited to playwright Sarah DeLappe (The Wolves). This makes it tricky to figure out who should be blamed for the subpar screenplay, which feels very NYU student play and is chock full of today’s buzzwords (“toxic,” “gaslighting”). Sure, there are times when this film feels like an Agatha Christie story for the TikTok generation, but its denouement isn’t half as clever as the author at her best (And Then There Were None, for example) and it feels rather small instead of cinematic, which is part of the film’s problem.

Lee Pace and Pete Davidson in Bodies Bodies Bodies/Gwen Capistran/A24

For all of the script’s faults, the cast actually does do a pretty good job—they’re just stuck playing what is possibly the most unlikeable group of friends ever assembled. You have to care about the characters in a slasher movie; in Bodies Bodies Bodies, Alice is vacuous and shallow, Jordan is domineering, Emma is manipulative, and Sophie is secretive. You almost find yourself rooting for whoever is dropping all these bodies.

Each cast member serves their part well, however, as Herrold asserts herself as a young force to be reckoned with, Pace is good as the sweet-hearted stud who quickly becomes threatening, and Davidson scores, as per usual, in comic relief. Bakalova is the clear standout here, proving her performance in Borat 2 was no fluke. People may be expecting another comedic performance from the Oscar nominee but she does strong dramatic work here, particularly in the second half. She’s a legit talent.

Working alongside Dutch cinematographer Jasper Wolf (Monos), Reijn does her best to keep things visually compelling—the house has lost power, so characters are often lit via flashlights and glow sticks—but it’s often hard to tell what the hell is going on in the darkness. Whatever is happening, I suspect this movie would’ve been much better had it jettisoned the script’s hollow criticisms of Gen Z and just drilled down on the sadness that hangs over Sophie and Bea’s relationship because they can’t be honest with each other.

Bodies Bodies Bodies may have earned a rousing reception from critics at this year’s SXSW film festival but it has all the impact of a TikTok video. You might enjoy it while watching it but this one will be quickly forgotten. It is very much in keeping with A24’s youth-focused movies, and for that very reason, I could see it catching on. But Bodies Bodies Bodies isn’t particularly scary or funny, it’s just annoying and all too predictable.
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