Nine years into its existence, A24—the once-indie production and distribution label behind modern greats like Under the Skin (2013), Moonlight (2016), and Uncut Gems (2019)—is starting to become a parody of itself. If Alex Garland’s Men most exemplified this argument in regards to their cerebral thrillers, Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies marks indictment in the horror-comedy realm. The thing about parodies, though: they can be funny. In the case of the self-serious Men, that’s not a good thing. But with Bodies Bodies Bodies there’s room to laugh, a sense of self-awareness that doesn’t overcome the parody but offers respite from its grasp.
The first English-language feature from Dutch actress-turned-director Reijn (and only her second after 2019’s Instinct), Bodies Bodies Bodies follows a group of wealthy, spoiled best friend twentysomethings who get together at one of their family mansions for a hurricane storm shut-in party. In perhaps her most shining directorial moment, Reijn introduces the cast of friends one-by-one, seemingly frozen in time underwater in stunning character portraits, only to reveal that time is in fact moving and we’re watching a breath-holding contest.
As soon as they emerge does the drama start. These are best friends, sure, but they’re best friends with a lifetime of grudges against each other boiling beneath the surface. There’s a glaring mirage where a unifying bond once stood. As Frank Ocean once put it: “super rich kids with nothing but loose ends, super rich kids with nothing but fake friends.”
The storm erupts and they go inside, where we learn more. Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova) are framed as leads for a couple of reasons. For one, Sophie is a mystery. No one in the group has seen or heard from her (even in the group chat) for a while, and despite her cheeriness and recent sobriety, they aren’t thrilled she appeared out of the blue. For another, Bee––Sophie’s new girlfriend––is a newcomer whose outsider characterization is used as a narrative device for others to run down certain aspects of the friend group’s history, like David (Pete Davidson) and Sophie’s romantic past.
Alice’s (Rachell Sennott) date Greg (Lee Pace) serves a similar purpose as a newcomer, but where the other pair is used as framing device, these two are situated as the comedic heart of the film. Sennott, playing an obnoxiously airheaded sex fiend, wields her uncanny ability to socially and physically flail around for significant laughs while Pace brilliantly embodies a chill military strong man who’s at least 15 years older than everyone else. Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) and Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), unfortunately, aren’t developed enough to shine in the pervasive darkness.
When the power goes out and someone is found with their throat slashed, the coke, booze, and murder bender begins. As if the group isn’t volatile enough, the looming prospect of a killer in neon-lit darkness creates chaos. Yet in all of the backstabbing bedlam (literally and figuratively), Sarah DeLappe’s stale screenplay is bogged down by tedious, relationship-explicating monologues and nauseating diatribes ripped from the dullest soap operas. Everyone’s written to be a bit too reactionary to believe, too stupid to fall for.
Bodies Bodies Bodies feels like A24 trying to suck up to the cool kids––a vapid, perhaps successful attempt to reel in a contemporary influencer crowd. Enjoying it feels partially dependent on one’s familiarity with celebrity pop culture, the intricacies of tabloid news, and the ever-evolving landscape of political correctness. It’s like a TikTok that keeps going, retaining viewers because it boasts one or two people that they stan—not because it’s compelling enough to warrant 95 minutes.
Bodies Bodies Bodies is technically crafted, though the spirit and tone of the film is more like reality television. The majority of its appeal is in the casting. But, as it goes, the hottest stars on the planet are thus for a reason. They have an innate glow—the masses want to see what they’re creating.
Pete Davidson is Pete Davidson. Anyone who saw Borat Subsequent Moviefilm has been waiting for Bakalova’s next big role. Fans of Shiva Baby certainly feel the same about Sennott—like followers of Stenberg, who’s in her biggest role since 2018’s The Hate U Give. Between them all, there ends up being enough organic comedic timing and natural chop on display to charm anyone into a good enough time, if they can see past the parody.
Bodies Bodies Bodies opens on August 5.