The thing about those murder mysteries full of celebrity names, where Faye Dunaway or Lauren Bacall swan about among fellow stars until they either wind up dead or are revealed as the killer, is that everyone on the train or in the country house deserves what’s coming to them. There’s an uber-entitlement payback thing going on.
Bodies Bodies Bodies understands that dynamic and mints it anew, with a privilege-unchecked gang of nicely rich bright young things, who convene at the big old house owned by the absent dad of one of their number, take drugs, drink, cavort and finally decide to play a game. What I’d call Murder in the Dark they call Bodies Bodies Bodies.
Meanwhile, outside, a hurricane is about to hit the area, meaning the landlines and smartphones will soon cease working. And someone’s left a light on in what appears to be the only vehicle available and so the car’s battery’s gone flat. So everyone is stuck there. Which doesn’t matter much until the dying starts.
The dying mostly takes place in the dark, for reasons that don’t quite stack up (add that to the “only one vehicle” objection) but make for cutely shot scenes lit by smartphones or glowsticks as the weekenders stumble about the big house.
It’s a good cast. A very good cast. Pete Davidson plays the host of the weekend, bringing his gift for brattishness to the role of David. Lee Pace also plays to his strengths as Greg, an “Afghanistan vet” whose army skills place him in a category of suspicion of his own.
But mostly the spotlight (li-on phone-battery driven) falls on a talented foursome of actors – Amandla Stenberg (great in everything I’ve seen her in), Maria Bakalova (fearless in the Borat sequel), Rachel Sennott (standout star of Shiva Baby) and Myha’la Herrold (who I don’t know but holds her own against the others in a bitch-from-hell performance). Also deserving a mention is Chase Sui Wonders, who does what she can in an underwritten role as Emma, the one who’s too hot to really be caught up in all this nonsense.
Big or small, soon-dead or lasting till the final credits, everyone gets a chance to emote at full intensity, and that, kind of, is the point. The self-regard of these people is extraordinary and like Dunaway or Bacall before them, death seems to be not quite enough of a just desert.
There is a twist, which I am not going to give away, which hinges on the nature of the deaths, one that isn’t fully explained until the film’s final moments, but perhaps the film’s greatest contribution to the genre is the way that – in moments of high drama (the discovery of a corpse or what have you) – everyone suddenly breaks off from wondering who the killer was to go into banal, therapised self-justification. The film moves from extreme crisis to extreme self-regard and tension dissipates, to be replaced by a morbid black comedy.
Eventually this black comedy morphs into something else entirely, as the survivors enter a toxic emotional crawlspace entirely of their own creation. It is grimly plausible and funny, a pile-up of multiple OMGs and WTFs.
It’s another Disasterpeace score – Rich Vreeland (his real name) also did the one for It Follows – and it’s a brilliant confection of twinkles, growls, submarine sonar bleeps and Suspiria-influenced grooves which remains entirely in the service of the vibe rather than asserting itself.
And it’s the English-language debut of Netherlands director Halina Reijn, whose decades working as an actor make her precisely the sort of nurturing hand needed on something so actor-focused. Rachel Sennott probably goes home with the gong for best performance, and for one moment in particular. But the nice (?) thing about Bodies Bodies Bodies is that everyone gets a chance to shine, or do I mean glisten?
Bodies Bodies Bodies – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2022