If you’ve seen the preview for Bodies Bodies Bodies, you pretty much know the drill.
The latest A24 horror film is about a group of Gen Z friends, all highly privileged, some extremely wealthy, who gather at the mansion owned by one of their fathers for a “hurricane party.” Once the torrential storm puts the lights out, and they’re all drunk and high, they play a murder mystery game called “bodies, bodies, bodies.” They creep around in the dark, trying to avoid the player who drew a card marked “X,” identifying them as the murderer; a touch on the back from this person counts as getting killed. Once the “victim” who’s playing dead is discovered, the cry of “bodies, bodies, bodies!” alerts the others, and then they all try to guess who the murderer is.
Assuming you weren’t born yesterday, you know that the friends will turn out to be frenemies at best, and an actual dead body will be discovered. Pretty soon they’ll all be playing “bodies, bodies, bodies” for real, with rich kids dropping like flies until the murderer is revealed by the last twentysomething(s) standing.
The most promising aspect of this premise is the fact that the characters are so loathsome, you look forward to seeing them die. If you’ve heard any buzz about the film, you might assume that these grotesque characters are a high-concept satire of the upper class. In reality, they’re another lazy take on the supposed self-absorption of Gen Z.
Pete Davidson plays David, the spoiled, coke-snorting scion of the house, who’s so despicable he’s practically begging to be murdered. Then there’s scatty podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott, comic actor of Shiva Baby, who improvised many of her lines). She’s a screechy nightmare of annoying internet-speak, and her new Tinder-match boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace of the Hobbit films), who’s an ex-military Gen-Xer twenty years older than everyone else, is handsome and muscular to the point that envious David keeps arguing that “he’s hot, but not that hot.”
Chase Sui Wonders of Generation plays David’s longtime girlfriend, the pretty but insipid Emma, an actor who once appeared in a production of Hedda Gabler. If Emma is the murderer, the others presume she’ll be more skilled than they are at hiding it, though as one of the “friends” says in a bitchy aside typical of this group of creeps, “Let’s face it, she wasn’t that good in Hedda Gabler.”
The only exception to this rule of detestability, at first anyway, is the seemingly sweet-natured outsider, Bee (Maria Bakalova of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm), a Russian immigrant who works at a video-game store and is brought to the mansion by her new girlfriend, Sophie (Amandla Stenberg of The Hate U Give and The Hunger Games).
From the beginning, Sophie’s friends treat Bee with either outright contempt or patently fake, poisonous sweetness, and Sophie doesn’t do much to defend her. In addition to all this tense togetherness, tough Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) is Sophie’s former girlfriend, who’s jealous of her new relationship with Bee. She also claims to come from a precarious lower-class background and is furious when she’s outed as solidly upper-middle-class.
The director, Halina Reijn, was raised by hippie parents in the Netherlands. She experienced the American class system as nightmarish and wanted, in her second film after her debut Instinct (2019), to satirize it: “that was the horror to me,” she said.
Fair enough. That would be fine as far as it goes, except that so much of the satire is actually aimed at a far more dubious target: the supposed awfulness of Gen Z, with their pitiful dependence on their iPhones and social media. As if rich people, or people in general, hadn’t found plenty of ways to be awful without any help from the internet.
Nevertheless, the film is being discussed reverently in reviews and profiles of the director and actors as a deadly accurate satire. This type of high-flown commentary is typical:
Gen Zers rely heavily on digital spaces for self-expression, community building and news gathering, [Amandla] Stenberg noted, but also face a sense of cognitive dissonance as they try to stay present in virtual life and reality. Indeed, said Sarah Bishop, a professor of communication studies at Baruch College, “for them to be able to defamiliarize or step back from this massive presence in their life is asking them to do something impossible, right? It’d be like asking them to imagine living without solid food.”
Well, I don’t know — perhaps I’m biased in favor of Gen Z because my godsons are wonderful, and their friends all seem like lovely young people. I haven’t noticed any of them suffering from cognitive dissonance specific to their generation. But maybe other Gen Zers will find this film insightful, as actor Stenberg seems to do:
When watching TV shows or movies about Gen Z or younger generations, the characters can seem flat and the writing often feels performative, out of touch, and sometimes even forced. Bodies feels realistic, while also including mentions of social media and group chats without making it a major focus of the story. “What was really refreshing about this script was to feel like it was speaking a language that did feel authentic to Gen Z. It didn’t feel contrived, or was adults trying to speak or think like Gen Zers,” Stenberg says.
Written by playwright Sarah DeLappe (The Wolves) and Kristen Roupenian (known for the viral New Yorker short story “Cat Person”), the film represents “authentic” Gen Z language: “I’m an ally,” “You trigger me,” “You’re so toxic,” “That’s ableist!” David rebukes Emma for saying “Stop gaslighting me!” — because “gaslighting” is a meaningless term she got off the internet, just like almost all the terms she uses. (It’s not a meaningless term. He’s gaslighting her.)
Obsessing on social media and attracting “likes” is presented as a symptom of what’s wrong with these young people, who apparently have no real friends, no loves, no loyalties, no morals or ethics — no nothin’ except insecurity, feigned emotions, shallow arrogance, and in some cases, many thousands of followers.
The movie indicates that they’re all at least borderline narcissists who can only playact at relationships. In the first scene, Sophie tells Bee “I love you” after a series of hot kisses, and Bee looks confused and troubled. It turns out that, after seeing each other for six weeks, they know almost nothing about each other, including that Sophie is in shaky recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction and Bee is lying about her educational status.
Me, an intellectual, mentally arguing with the movie: “But love isn’t necessarily defined by knowing each other well. That’s more of this nonsense people believe now, that the only real love is healthy, wholesome, and balanced, like a high-fiber diet, when real love can be volatile, dangerous, annihilating. There’s no reason, initially at least, to think Sophie can’t be honestly in love with Bee.”
Anyway, it’s safe to say this isn’t the movie for me. I found it dull, undeveloped, and repetitive, with too many hysterical group confrontations in the same two modes: either everyone suddenly turns on one hapless scapegoat, or else everyone screams and waves weapons and attacks each other because they assume they’re about to be attacked. This is supposed to be more meta-commentary on the behavior of the extremely online Gen-Zer, always preemptively going for somebody’s jugular and instinctively drawn to join every hostile pile-on of a chosen victim.
I was also disappointed that the long-foretold hurricane keeping them trapped never really turns into a vital part of the film’s atmosphere or an important factor in the story, except for one instance when a character, suspected of being a murderer (as each character has been in turn), is briefly forced out into the storm. It’s a sad waste of extreme weather, which can do so much to ratchet up tension.
That this slasher-inclined murder-mystery narrative doubles as a satire of contemporary American youth makes sense, since this classic plot structure began as a political form.
In 1939, Agatha Christie became the first author, as far as I know, to structure a narrative around a group of people stranded in a remote location who get murdered one by one, desperately trying to figure out the identity of the murderer before there’s no one left to learn it. Borrowing a line from the morbid nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians,” she named her novel And Then There Were None, which is also the title of the excellent 1945 film adaptation directed by René Clair.
Christie’s savage tale is a harsh satire of a microcosm of British society — a homicidal jamboree that makes every character morally guilty of murder before they ever got to the island. All the characters except two become victims of a murderous “execution” for their crimes. To avoid being found alone with nine corpses, the murderer commits suicide and persuades the last survivor to do likewise, to avoid the blame for being the last living person found stranded alone with nine corpses. The assumption is that trying to explain the situation to the police or other representatives of the law would do no good whatsoever, and legalized execution would soon follow anyway.
Christie’s ruthlessness shows up the marshmallow center of Bodies Bodies Bodies, which ends with a whimper. A plaintive, bloodied Gen Zer exclaims, at the pathetic return of her reason for living, “I’ve got coverage!”