All the awful ‘Bodies’

A fairly common experience when looking through available media for posts about really bad movies is all of the imagery is indistinguishable. There’s an avalanche of multi-character wide shots for this movie that are all of them arguing about what they should do next and all feel interchangeable, I can’t even tell what plot point this is after. Images courtesy A24.

2/10 Bodies Bodies Bodies attempts to be insightful and fails, a movie that isn’t completely without merit, but is less interested in bringing its merits to the foreground than it is in having a good time despising itself and its characters.

In Bodies Bodies Bodies, a bunch of awful 20-somethings who all hate each other gather for a “hurricane party.” The night immediately disintegrates into a food fight of hostility, selfishness and weaponized therapy language.

Where media is often described as a love letter to its source material, Bodies Bodies Bodies is hate mail, a flaming turd not laid on a specific porch, but stuffed into the mailbox of Generation Z as a broad class. The core concept of this movie is so hateful and so uninteresting that there can be no constructive criticism, it’s impossible to imagine a good version of this movie. It simply should not have been made.

Billed as a horror-comedy, Bodies Bodies Bodies isn’t scary, and it certainly isn’t funny. The film is visually unremarkable, and the power goes out early in the evening to make it even less so, the apparently sprawling mansion breaking down into rooms that all feel small and cluttered. All the kills are offscreen, so there’s no slasher sensibilities either. Everything set up in the first act plays out exactly as-telegraphed, and all new revelations slam into the plot from out of nowhere, T-boning the story without really changing its trajectory since the details don’t matter – everything in this movie is an excuse for the children to be upset. There’s never any reason to root for any of these poorly understood strawmen – perhaps the doe-eyed Bee (Maria Bakalova), a working-class Eastern European who seems out of place among these spoiled American toddlers in their mid-20s, but silent discomfort isn’t a virtue. She’s just there, hovering at a party where she doesn’t know anyone, something the film doesn’t take advantage of as a way to lead the audience through group dynamics or provide fresh perspective, though it is something her awful new friends eventually try to kill her over.

The characters are so dire that David (Pete Davidson) is the only one I can build any connection with, because he’s the only one who would rather leave than try to win the petty fights breaking out around him.

Bodies Bodies Bodies attempts to skewer entitled, young, upper-class Americans and the prevalent misuse of therapy as a sort of whetstone for weaponized victimhood, the kind of people who want a licensed professional to help identify all the ways they’ve been wronged and file it into clinical language not to the end goal of getting better, but to forge it into a cross they can bear to counterbalance all their other blessings. The film is a torrent of accusation and justification with everyone’s various bad experiences at the spine of every position, and terms like “triggering” and “gaslighting” are meaningless beyond their use as pretenses for attack.

The genuine danger of this sort of thinking is laced into the story – Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), the group’s queen bee, has her struggles with substance abuse pulled down to even terms with such crimes as being cheated on or not really liking your buddy’s podcast. Real problems created by wealth inequality are there as well in the “hurricane party” setup calling back to the “same storm, different boat” axiom about understanding the dynamic and in some of the romantic choices. Sophie and Alice (Rachel Sennott) have brought their partners of a few weeks along, the poor Russian in Bee and the still-hot veterinarian in his 40s in Greg (Lee Pace), both of whom are clearly viewed as pets or oddities and are quickly discarded.

Bodies Bodies Bodies “attempts” to skewer entitled, young, upper-class Americans, but it really just skewers the young. All of the movie’s high crimes, the attention-seeking, the risk-taking, the exploratory sexuality, the view of people of different backgrounds as exotic and commoditized, none of this is in any way as specific as the window dressing indicating who all this anger is supposed to be toward. The film hates its characters and expects you to hate them as well, but all I can say to any of their flaws is, “yeah, I was 20 once.”

The film’s hatred cripples everything else about it. You’re expected to enjoy spending 94 minutes with these people, but they’re deliberately framed as being insufferable. It’s impossible to engage in a “whodunit” charged with the emotions of existing drama without letting yourself get caught up in that drama, drama that is in the same breath framed as silly and petty and overdramatic. Instead of having fun hanging in the plot’s twists and turns and trying to guess the killer, I’m resigned to eventually find out it was the awful one, because they’re all awful anyway. “Bad by design” is not a defense – a movie that sucks the way its creatives intended still sucks.

There’s one early moment when Bodies Bodies Bodies might have been thoughtful – most characters are introduced by smash-cutting to them having a breath-holding competition in the pool, a batch of “bodies bodies bodies” seemingly in suspended animation waiting for Bee and Sophie to arrive. The shape of the human body is immensely important to cinema, but their expressionistic use is quickly lost to tight frames in low lighting. The actress’ “bodies bodies bodies” have since become headlines in a bad way.

Bodies Bodies Bodies is one of those not-very-horny movies about horny characters, particularly Alice here. Like everything else in the film, her sexuality feels like a condemnation of the broad concept, as if sex is another Gen Z trend that’ll kill the economy.

This is the second feature-length project for director Halina Reijn, whose first film was about a prison therapist who falls for her serial rapist patient, and first screenplay for writer Sarah DeLappe, who rose to prominence with a stageplay about high school soccer team gossip, so they’re both on-brand. Their movie’s wannabe shock-jockey sensibilities befit an up-and-coming duo, but also make it look like they have quite little to say and lack the skills to say it well.

Cinematographer Jasper Wolf holds the camera underneath the characters, most of whom are framed as quite short, with flash lighting that catches on the foreground and leaves the background blank. You get that sense of being among them in a first-person story and never having any larger information, but it looks more like a cheap subterranean horror than anything else. He and editors Taylor Levy and Julia Bloch, who insert most of the film’s jokes, deserve fair credit for what they worked with here.

Positive counterexamples abound. John Carpenter’s The Thing and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs are the classic paranoid bottle movie thrillers, and something they have in common is they’re about characters, whereas Bodies Bodies Bodies is about cardboard cutouts of people the filmmakers hate. The cowardice and hypocrisy of applying “safe spaces” and other therapy-room tools to everyday life is also frequently eviscerated in popular media, perhaps best exemplified in recent seasons of “South Park.” Most media that approach the topic first understand their usefulness in a therapeutic setting and actually demonstrate the hypocrisy of bringing them outside those bounds. In Bodies Bodies Bodies, everyone who uses them is awful –because they’re all awful anyway.  

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at reelentropy@gmail.com. 

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