‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’ Is a Crime Against Slasher Flicks
There are violent crimes committed in A24’s disappointing new slasher, Bodies Bodies Bodies, including a machete to the neck and a tumble down the stairs like something out of HBO’s The Staircase. But none of this bloodletting is as grievous as the crime committed by the movie itself, which takes a pair of actresses that gave two of the funnier comic turns in recent memory — Rachel Sennott of Shiva Baby and Maria Bakalova of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm — and whittles almost all of their magic down to nothing. By the end of the movie, the snap and crackle of their wit has somehow been deadened to a pile of ash. All that’s left are the bones of a movie that’s going through an identity crisis, and a good idea gone to waste.
Bodies Bodies Bodies, directed Halina Reijn, takes a handful of familiar tropes — a friend getaway (replace the cabin in the woods with the richest friend’s empty house), a drinking game gone wrong, a storm that knocks the power out, a murder mystery in a pitch black house — and vampirically sucks the stupid fun out of almost all of them. The friends are a rowdy bunch on paper. There’s the fun-loving, not exactly sharp Alice (Sennott) and her older guy-she’s-seeing (Lee Pace); Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), who’s got a dark-spirited vibe that’s maybe-fun, maybe-not; Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), an actress, and David (Pete Davidson), whose house they’re all crashing at; and, finally, Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), recently out of rehab, and her girlfriend Bee (Bakalova), the shy outsider from overseas who’s a stranger to everyone else in the group.
It’s no secret that the title of the movie refers to a fun murder game in which someone plays a killer and someone gets killed. In this movie, that game turns real — with the requisite fake-outs, of course. But, actually, the bigger mystery isn’t who’ll get murdered and why, or who’s doing it and why. The bigger mystery is why this movie is the way that it is, a question worth asking from the very first scene — because of the camerawork. The look of Bodies Bodies Bodies feels more suited to a tactile, sensitive, European arthouse drama than to whatever this movie is. All those lingering, intensive close-ups, a camera gaze actively searching for more meaning in characters’ face than this particular movie is prepared to give. It’s not exactly a style suited to a movie which, by all available evidence, seems to want to be fizzy, scary, and fun. And the end result suffers for it.
I love the idea of a drunken murder-mystery game that bends unpredictably into an actual murder mystery, a violent spark that sends an already-paranoid friend group’s collective head spinning. It’s a mischievous premise. It deserves a little mischief on the movie’s part, some B-movie disregard for morality or the rules. Bodies Bodies Bodies is instead wholly at odds with itself. It wants to be a slasher, but it isn’t reckless enough. It wants to be funny, but it only has two jokes, and it repeats them ad nauseum. It wants to be tense, but it takes advantage of almost none of the tension that this scenario and its McMansion setting have to offer.
By the third time you see a character wander through the dark house with only an iPhone flashlight to guide them — the third time you tense up at the sight of all that negative space in the frame, ripe for jump scares or at least playful little spooks — it becomes clear that nothing is going to happen. Long scenes of characters wandering are just that. They’ve got no rhythm, no vibe, no surprises: They’re just exposition.
Much of the movie plays out this way — heavy, laden, joyless, and oddly forgetful, with errant plot strands and moments of anxiety (a missing friend, some unduly dramatic backstory, and on and on) that make you wonder how far this product is from the original spec script written by Kristen Roupenian (the short story writer famed for her viral New Yorker hit “Cat People”). A good deal of the movie’s spiciest ingredients feel like last-minute additions, a pinch here or there, just enough for someone to be able to cut a far more tantalizing trailer than the movie deserves. Those woke Gen Z jokes? Few and far between. It’s like the movie has amnesia for its own premise or, maybe more accurately, like one of the project’s handful of subsequent writers simply copy/pasted those jokes into an idea that wasn’t necessarily crying out for them.
Only Sennott emerges from this confusion with a consistently watchable personality, and that’s because we know the personality: the fun, flaky friend, the lovable nitwit, the vacuous life of the party. That amounts to one joke, at most. The movie overdoes it tenfold, underestimating Sennott’s wider-ranging knack for hijinks to an almost offensive degree. Still, at least it’s a joke — something the movie has fewer of than it seems to realize.
Sennott’s cast mates don’t fare as well, unfortunately. Reijn’s wishy-washy, arrhythmic, humorless direction homes in far too much on redundant, nothingburger details and does way too little with what the actors are trying to give. Herrold, for example, is better when she seems to be up to no good. But the movie has extremely little imagination for what that would look like. Wonders, meanwhile, plays the drama queen, only you wouldn’t really know it from her performance; everyone else accuses her of being the annoyingly over-emotional friend, but her tears seem to belong to a different movie, not a gangbusters spooky slasher, but a lo-fi, forgettable drama. This is no fault of the actress; it’s a consistent lapse of the movie. Even Davidson doesn’t come off like as much of a prick as his performance inclines him to be. Any tension his broham cokehead rich-kid swagger brings to the story fizzles out before it gets a chance to flare up. You know it’s saying something when, in a house full of people being sacrificed to a murderer, Pete Davidson isn’t the person you’re rooting to die first. Why would you want the interesting people to die first? It’s already bad enough that they’re outnumbered.
Bodies Bodies Bodies does manage to pull off a tail ending that, by contrast, is a little fun. Yet even this is overburdened with shoddy, deadweight timing, the punchlines delivered only after way too much shuffling around and melodramatic ambling about, as if we, the audience, have to earn every nibblet of fun that the movie has to offer. It all points back to the movie’s very basic, very unfortunate misconception about what it has to offer. Rather than seeing its characters’ personalities as putty for the plot to play with, Bodies Bodies Bodies tries to instill something approaching genuine, buzzkill drama — real emotions! — into its weighty third act, with the survivors to that point standing around arguing, backstabbing, revealing themselves. They talk each other (and us!) half to death — though not dead enough to make this movie land on its feet. That’s a problem. Bodies Bodies Bodies is too joyless to have a solution.