Bodies Bodies Bodies is a funny, fast-paced social commentary trapped in a ho-hum murder mystery

By Scott Cole

* * * (3 stars out of 5)

Director: Halina Reijn
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson, Lee Pace, Myha’la Herrold

If there was ever a true divide separating cinema as an art form from the invasion of social media into every aspect of daily life, Halina Reijn’s new comedic thriller Bodies Bodies Bodies has demolished it. There is a time-honored tradition in the movies for filmmakers to attempt to capture the disaffected youth of different generations, and Reijn has possibly made the most straight-forward attempt to capture the youth of today by demonstrating the extent to which podcasts, Twitter, and TikTok are the driving force behind behavior, actions, and even simple conversations. Because of this, there are moments of incisive social commentary in Reijn’s work here, but they are unfortunately couched in a rather dull murder mystery that makes for an uneven viewing experience.

Our point of entry is Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), a 20-something recovering addict fresh out of rehab, who is heading to meet a group of old friends buckling down to ride out an incoming hurricane threat. With her sweet and reserved girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) in tow, they are heading to the giant house owned by the rich parents of David (Pete Davidson), one of Sophie’s best friends. Both Sophie and Bee are trepidatious for different reasons: Sophie has not seen or talked to any of these friends since her overdose that prompted treatment, and Bee is the European newcomer who barely knows Sophie, let alone the onslaught of her friends (and their personalities) she’s about to experience.

Once they arrive, we meet the rest of the small group of players. There’s David and his girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), who is an aspiring actress (In an amusing recurring joke, the group brings up her great acting skills in a production of Hedda Gabler). Anxious and fun-loving podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) has brought along her new beau, the much older and mysterious Greg (Lee Pace) who vibrates at a totally different frequency than everyone else. Finally, there is Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), whose previous relationship with Sophie naturally brings a base level of tension to the proceedings.

As the storm begins, the crew (except for the sober Sophie) get drunk, high, and dance until they wind down to play a game called Bodies Bodies Bodies wherein one player is the secret killer taking down others and the survivors have to figure out the killer’s identity. After an argument breaks out during the first round, things take a severe shift when the power goes out and one of the guests winds up actually getting killed. Stuck in the house with nowhere to go due to the hurricane and armed with iPhone flashlights, the crew find themselves in a real-life whodunnit trying to find the possible killer amongst them while not becoming the next to croak.

At a brisk 95 minutes, Bodies Bodies Bodies starts quickly and moves fast which I appreciated in this age of bloated movie running times. Unfortunately once the murder mystery takes center stage, I found myself not very interested in its plot mechanics and the direction of these scenes made the stakes somehow feel lower than they should’ve been. Part of the problem might be the setting. Because of how soon the power goes out, the audience is left mostly in the (literal) dark, and we never get a good handle on the house as a setting. This might seem like a minor quibble but when you compare to other mansion-based whodunnits like Knives Out (2019) or even Clue (1985), those houses almost became another character in themselves which added to the tension of the proceedings.

The performances are solid across the board. Stenberg and Davidson share an early scene where they are simply catching up, and they have a really nice and natural ease and chemistry. The standout in the cast for me is the hilarious Rachel Sennott. Building on her spectacular starring role in Shiva Baby (2020), she easily gets the biggest laughs in the movie with a very believable, specific character and just destroys every scene she’s given. I can’t wait to see her in more things, and I can see a really great comedic career in her future in the vein of Kristen Wiig or Kathryn Hahn; she’s that good. I also found Maria Bakalova charming and sweet in a complete turn from her stellar go-for-broke work in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.

Mostly I found the conversations between the characters to be interesting and involving, even though at times the references and buzz words they are parodying become a little overwhelming. In a similar way to B.J. Novak’s recent Vengeance, an overkill of that type of dialogue can start to feel almost written by a Twitter thread itself. But the actors do a good job of selling their youth and inexperience in the world while being thrust into an impossible situation that finally forces them to put their phones down and be present. I just wish the murder mystery element had been tightened up a little to make it more enthralling for the audience. But I give credit where it is due: Bodies Bodies Bodies contains insight, good performances, and some solidly funny moments that dull the blade of its shortcomings.

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