Director: Halina Reijn
Stars: Amandla Stenberg, Rachel Sennott, Maria Bakalova
The latest acquisition from the zeitgeist-straddling A24 is a hot ‘n’ horny whodunnit about coked-up nepotism babies; one that’s already caused enough thirst to get one online critic to virtually torpedo their own career (no need to name names). That, evidently, is the power of Amandla Stenberg alone, and she has plenty of company in this wilfully obnoxious comedy of (t)errors.
Heavily influenced – or so it seems – by the power Scream wielded in the 1990s, Halina Reijn’s millennial take-down of the slasher movie (inspired by a story from Cat Person author Kristen Roupenian) trades in a similar brand of cultural satire, wringing a lot of mileage out of the exceedingly-online idioms of the emerging generation. Six young rich people (and one older guy) bed down at an upstate New York mansion for a “hurricane party”. Assembled we have newly-sober Sophie (Stenberg) and her shy foreign girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova), David (Pete Davidson) and his girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), Alice (Rachel Sennot) and Alice’s ‘acquaintance’, our token adult Greg (Lee Pace).
The shots are flowing, the glow-sticks are popping and the drugs are everywhere. And then, after a bratty game of ‘Murder in the Dark’ (renamed here as, yep, Bodies Bodies Bodies), the first real body is discovered. The party may be over, but the storm sure isn’t. And, somehow, only one person drove to this remote rural estate…
That last point will drive you insane if you let it; a plot hole so huge you could drive the sole vehicle into it (if the battery weren’t conveniently dead). Whatever, it’s difficult enough in this day and age to genuinely maroon young people anywhere. The lack of cell coverage in a hurricane is, at least, believable, and hems this septet in for a murderous Lord of the Flies-style descent into drug-addled paranoia.
While the blood does run, Reijn’s film emphasises the comedy over the horror. This despite some effective sequences lit solely by the piercing yet minimal glow of said cell phones and glow-sticks. Their use to illuminate only brief portions of the screen is used shrewdly, leaving the audience gagging for more information than we’re being afforded and placing us in the same situation as these hysterical youngsters.
Said hysteria is caustic but also playful. The film’s trailer condensed this obnoxiousness into a flurry of buzzwords and expletives, giving the impression of rather shrill verbal diarrhoea. Fortunately, the broader experience of Bodies x3 is more judiciously peppered and, while the use of exceedingly present Gen Z speak (“you’re silencing me!” etc) is likely to date-stamp the movie more or less immediately, this time-capsuling is as much the point as any of the slightly sloppy plot machinations.
Screenwriter Sarah DeLappe doesn’t solely use such language to mock her characters. Bodies x3 makes a concerted effort to round out each member of the collective (granted, to varying degrees of success), and plays in the main as an observation and occasional critique of the culture of PC watchfulness that has bloomed, together with it’s negative reflection; that of kneejerk cancel culture and absolute refusal.
As with the Scream franchise, this occasionally creates grating or strained exchanges, but the young actors all take to it with gusto. Sennott’s Alice is a clear highlight; a loudmouth ditz with no loyalties, her guileless reversals are delightful to behold. Between this and last year’s excellent showcase Shiva Baby hers is the name to watch. But she’s not alone. Stenberg makes a real person out of a fairly rote archetype, while Bakalova and Herrold both command attention portraying, effectively, opposites.
Even Davidson – best known to this viewer as a serial celebrity boyfriend – displays as much charm as he does arrogant bravado. Very befitting of the character asked of him here. Reijn even makes her movie’s title into a playful visual abstraction. When all trust breaks down and the girls get to fighting one another, the frame is filled with indistinctly delineated limbs and torsos. Bodies bodies bodies indeed.
Ultimately, Bodies x3 plays a sneaky hold card that’ll split its viewership down the middle, between those who feel cheated and those who enjoy the joke. That sense of division and fast reaction is sort of fitting here. There isn’t a whole lot under the microscope in Reijn’s movie, but what is there has been scrutinised with a lot of humour… flattering or otherwise. Frequently funny, occasionally tense, this isn’t the worst party in the world as we shimmy into spooky season.