By George Bate and Josh Reilly B.
If Euphoria was written by Agatha Christie, sprinkled in with a bit of Scream and Gen Z commentary, you’d have Bodies Bodies Bodies. An odd combination? Possibly. But does it work? Absolutely.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is written by playwright Sarah DeLappe and marks the English-language directorial debut of Dutch filmmaker Halina Reijn. The A24 summer release follows a group of friends (note: the term friend is used rather tenuously) who throw a party at an isolated mansion during a hurricane. At the center of this story are Bee (played by Maria Bakalova, from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) and Sophie (played by Amandla Stenberg, from The Hate U Give and the upcoming Star Wars series The Acolyte). Bee and Sophie are a new-ish couple and the hurricane party is the first time Bee is introduced to Sophie’s group of eclectic ‘friends,’ who aren’t exactly welcoming of Sophie’s return following a lengthy absence from their friend group and a history of substance use. What ensues is a film that packs humorous Gen Z commentary into a story of intrigue and distrust after one of the friends is found dead and the group frantically tries to uncover the murderer amongst them.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is a movie that grips from the first scene and doesn’t let go until its unpredictable, strangely satisfying conclusion. The film opens suddenly with a lengthy, almost dream-like intimate scene between Bee and Sophie that perfectly sweeps the audience off its feet and encapsulates the fresh love shared by the couple. It’s not long until the film, however, that the beauty of the first scene doesn’t tell the whole story. Bee is nervous and less certain of her love for Sophie, compared to Sophie’s confidence and passion. Tensions rise and passive-aggression is abound when Sophie reunites with her friends, who all seem to have some unspoken gripe with one another. Bee’s inclusion in this story nicely brings the audience into this intimate friend group as the script intelligently makes the audience (and Bee) feel like they’re out of place or don’t belong. That palpable feeling of being somewhere where everyone knows each other, but you’re a newcomer? That’s the starting point of tension in Bodies Bodies Bodies and, from there, tensions continue to rise as the friends’ bickering becomes more than just mere joking around. Then, when a dead body shows up, the friends let their guard down and become more transparent with one another than they’ve ever been.
Playwright Sarah DeLappe writes an incredibly sharp script here and showcases her particular talent for writing natural, punchy dialogue. The film isn’t brimming with originality in the sense that this is a story that’s been seen more than a handful of times. A person drops dead in an isolated location, suddenly casting suspicion on all those around is a story that’s intimately familiar with moviegoers at this point. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is the seminal work here, but there’s also Clue, Knives Out, Gosford Park, and Murder by Death, amongst others, to reference. Despite the premise’s familiarity though, DeLappe crafts a screenplay that proves to be as subversive and intelligent as they come in this genre. The whodunnit aspects of the story are perfectly realized, as are the horror themes related to people in a remote location unsure of who the killer is. And, the film is in no rush to plummet viewers into its murder mystery and horror elements. Weaved through this story from the beginning is a wealth of powerful, captivating dialogue between the group of friends that, not only elicits some genuine laughs, but adds layer upon layer to the complicated dynamics of a friend group that is far from friendly. With a killer in their midst, the friends’ deepest vulnerabilities come to the surface and long-awaited confrontations occur, making Bodies Bodies Bodies work equally well as a murder mystery and Euphoria-esque examination of friendship.
Carrying the film forward is a series of impeccable performances from the ensemble cast. Bakalova plays her role with such nuance and empathy, while also never fully putting her character beyond suspicion. It’s made clear early on that Bakalova’s Bee character is the only one to not come from money (she works at a GameStop-equivalent) she’s the only one from another country, and she’s the newcomer to this friend group. Adding to the ensemble and rounding out the friend group are Chase Sui Wonders, Myha’la Herrold, Lee Pace, Pete Davidson, and Rachel Sennott. Every actor brings something so unique to the film and makes each friend feel like a fully realized individual. Pace is hilarious as the older, strangely calm boyfriend of one of the friends. Davidson proves his acting ability once again in deftly balancing witty one-liners and punchlines with some genuinely impressive dramatic acting. But, the real scene stealer here is Rachel Sennott, who plays the aloof Alice. Sennott elicits laugh after laugh with a performance that hits on so many different stereotypes and assumptions of Gen Z. Amidst a worthy ensemble cast, it’s a testament to Sennott’s performance that she continually stands out.
Regarding the commentary here, Bodies Bodies Bodies isn’t afraid to poke fun at the values and lifestyles of its characters. A discussion on the over-usage of the term gaslight brings the laughs and the sort of meta-take that moviegoers love from the Scream franchise. Other gags include a character detailing the difficulties of running a podcast (which another friend secretly despises by the way) and a character’s over-sharing of personal details regarding mental health that places the spotlight firmly on them at the expensive of others.
Overseeing this journey of murder, mystery, and strained friendships is director Halina Reijn. Reijn masterfully tells this story as she is restricted to a single location in the remote mansion. When the power cuts out, Reijn and cinematographer Jasper Wolf intelligently rely on unique sources of light, such as cell phones and glow sticks, that never grow tiresome. This limited lighting adds a sense of horror to the film, but also offers plenty of opportunities to make a rather typical movie mansion be a really immersive location.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is not only the best horror films of the year, but one of the best films of the year in general. Fusing together a horror mystery with a friendship drama, the new A24 film is gripping, hilarious, and intriguing from start to finish. Stellar performances, especially a scene-stealing turn from Rachel Sennott, make a sharp and witty screenplay come to life. Euphoria + Agatha Christie makes for a hell of a time at the movies.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is in theaters Friday August 12.