One of the great pleasures of summer is the purely enjoyable, disposable horror movie, one that comes with no pretention of being “elevated”—a term that demeans the overall genre, anyway. Bodies Bodies Bodies—the English-language debut of Dutch filmmaker Halina Reijn, written by playwright Sarah DeLappe, from a story by Kristen Roupenian, of “Cat Person” fame—takes a while to get going, and its intentionally ambling dialogue sometimes makes the pacing a little creaky. But the picture—in which a group of friends gather at a remote mansion to party through a hurricane—has a clear sense of humor about itself and its intended audience. That’s ostensibly Gen Z, though it could also include you and me. The movie doesn’t try to explain a whole generation, but it’s sympathetic to the realities of young people trying to make their way in the world right now. It also features a kicker so enormously, stupidly satisfying that I found myself laughing about it on the subway ride home.
Sophie (Amandla Stenberg, of The Hate U Give) and Bee (Maria Bakalova, of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) are a couple newly, or perhaps only possibly, in love; they’re introduced to us in a tender, dreamy opening that captures both the thrill and the uncertainty of getting started as a twosome. Those feelings are intensified, especially for Bee, when the two arrive at the party they’ve been planning to attend, hosted by Sophie’s childhood best friend, super-rich kid David (Pete Davidson), at his family’s gated compound. It turns out Sophie hasn’t told anyone in this small group of friends that she was coming. She also hasn’t told them that she’s recently sober. When she arrives, with Bee in tow, they’re frolicking, pre-storm, in David’s giant family pool. In their wet swimsuits and dripping hair, they castigate her, with a great deal of smiley passive-aggression, for not responding to the group chat. Bee, presumably the only person in this crowd who doesn’t come from money, awkwardly hands over the homemade banana bread she’s brought. Later, another guest, Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), a woman with a take-no-prisoners stare, gets Bee alone and half-warns, half-commands her to “be careful” with Sophie.
Then the hurricane hits. The proper preparations have been made: there are plenty of batteries (not to mention cellphone flashlights), as well as snacks, booze and coke, with Xanax on hand for occasional bouts of anxiety. The group—which also includes David’s actressy girlfriend, Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), dumb-smart rich girl Alice (Rachel Sennott) and the “older guy” Alice is dating, Greg (Lee Pace), who, the others hiss behind his back, must be at least 40—decide to play a favorite game. Everyone gets a piece of paper; one is marked with an X, deeming that person the “murderer.” The goal is to avoid the killer’s touch. Over the course of the night—during which the lights go out, naturally—the game becomes, predictably, literal.
Yet the filmmakers and their actors find ways to freshen up every convention of the genre. As the bodies stack up, resentments and rivalries shimmer to the fore. There’s an exasperated discussion about the word gaslight (has it been overused to the point of meaninglessness?), revelations about secret family troubles (“My mom has borderline,” one character confesses, eliciting coos of sympathy from the others), some handwringing over how hard it is to keep a podcast going, and a light-therapy mask used as a sight gag. In between, there’s plenty of teen-house-party-horror dialogue: “Wait, where’s Emma?” “I heard something!” “Don’t touch her!” and the evergreen “What is happening?”
We also get the requisite bloody corpses and some semi-serious observations about what it means to have a job—any job—as a person recently graduated from college. (Even in this crowd, it’s no badge of shame to have a gig at GameStop.) Davidson, as the party’s host, holds court over the movie’s early scenes: with his lanky tattooed limbs, his socks-and-pool-slide elan, his perpetually raccoon-ringed eyes—which, here, happen to be accentuated by an underexplained shiner that on him almost looks normal—he’s arguably our first vitamin-deficient sex symbol. He also gets, and milks, the movie’s best moment. Bodies Bodies Bodies is one of those movies that wins you over scene by scene, before sealing the deal with its marvelous, ludicrous ending. See it with a group of friends you love. Or even just low-key resent.
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