'Bodies Bodies Bodies' slays the slasher flick and gives us Lee Pace in pool at SXSW
If you could perform seances through the internet — I am imagining "Blithe Spirit" but with an iPhone instead of a spiritual medium — it might really open up some creative doors. To wit: "Bodies Bodies Bodies" could easily have emerged from trapping the soul of Agatha Christie inside a TikTok video.
Director Halina Reijn's dark comedy-slasher flick made its world premiere at South by Southwest Film Festival on March 14 at the Paramount Theatre. The movie feels comfortingly/chillingly familiar, in a blood-and-screams sort of way. And yet, armed with Pete Davidson in a pink sweatsuit and a crackling, Gen Z-baiting script that roasts modern society, it's a rare bird.
As a hurricane descends, a group of 20-somethings — weaponizing their rich parents' money to do god knows what — hole up in the family mansion of David (Davidson). New lovers Sophie and Bee (Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalova) are the last to arrive, and they're greeted with varying degrees of warmth by Sophie's longtime friend group.
Tension bleeds out of the oft-referred-to group text. Obnoxious podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) brought along her latest Tinder find, a big, goofy older man named Greg (Lee Pace). No one really trusts David's actress girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders). And blunt Jordan (Myha'la Herrold) actually doesn't trust anyone — something she makes clear to Bee, who obviously can't fit into this world of opening Champagne with a saber.
As the storm worsens, the gang decides to play a classic party game: Everyone draws a slip of paper. One paper designates a player the killer. The lights go off. When they come back on, the players guess who the killer is, because one of their friends is now lying on the ground and playing dead.
Well. "Playing." That's how it's supposed to work, but anything can happen in a hurricane.
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It's a classic set-up: the wolf among the sheep on a dark, stormy night. But these days, the horror movie genre is one of the most fertile fields for creative glee. We built up a good 100 years of tropes since "Nosferatu," and now filmmakers can shatter the bones of those clichés with a lead pipe and make gorgeous, crimson-stained mosaics. (Or maybe a nice kitchen backsplash.)
It doesn't take a film historian to know that slasher movies haven't always been kind to women, either. Newer entries into the canon, like "Ready or Not," have a corrective thing or two to say about violence and misogyny.
Reijn takes that energy and charges ahead, holding a butcher knife dripping with Type O, of course. She assembled an all-star cast of exciting young performers like Y.A. movie champ Stenberg and "Genera+ion" standout Wonders. "Bodies Bodies Bodies" has not-so-secret weapons in "Shiva Baby" star Sennott, playing a precisely observed portrait of the worst woman you know, and "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm" guerilla comic Bakalova, who here turns in stunning, sensitive work as acidity reigns around her.
(Meanwhile, Pace and Davidson bring their respective non-toxic masculine energies to the table to great comedic effect.)
The script's mostly a winner. It's queer; it's suspenseful; it's genuinely sensitive to its characters, especially Bee. The plot drags up top, and its critique of the dilettante class feels like it loses some of its courage. But everyone gets a zinger to bite into, especially Sennott, who's basically murdering a set at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater amid actual murders.
Nothing is safe from ridicule: astrology, performative allyship, podcasts, "Hedda Gabler." One climactic scene brings to mind the "Beach House" episode of HBO comedy "Girls," one of the best episodes of modern prestige TV, and I am acutely aware that seriously referencing a Lena Dunham show in this review would probably get me read in "Bodies Bodies Bodies."
Reijn's stylistic instincts are exciting, too. You're unlikely to find another SXSW headliner with Slayyyter's "Daddy AF" on the soundtrack. The use of emergency head lamps and phone screens as filmed light sources is seamless and clever.
And there's a smart eye for tableaus: We first meet many of our characters submerged and still beneath the water of a luxury swimming pool, like renaissance paintings, or as if their inner turmoil is preserved in glass. Some seethe; others are uncomfortably enmeshed.
The ultimate mark of a good movie, though, is that "Bodies Bodies Bodies" lets Lee Pace shimmy around and act like a sinister Labrador retriever. That's a vision, folks.