Put a bunch of narcissists in a big house with a lot of drugs and booze, a hurricane, a sword and more staircases than they know how to go up and down on, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
This is the premise of Halina Reijn’s bloody satire “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” a movie that, not unlike its heroes, is often vicious if not a little empty-minded.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” begins with a kiss, tongue and all: this is Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), two young lovers going to meet the former’s best friends on a weekend upstate. Sophie warns Bee that her friends are not as bad as they seem, undoubtedly code for being worse than they look.
Sophie’s closest pal is David (Pete Davidson), a smarmy rich kid with a drug problem who’s always trying to be the bigger man in the room. With him is his wimpy girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders, “On the Rocks”), their friends Jordan (Myha’la Herrold, HBO Max’s “Industry”) and Alice (Rachel Sennott), and Alice’s new older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace).
It’s all good — old pop songs, weed edibles, TikTok dances — until it’s not. These are old pals with storied histories, many of whom harbor grudges against Sophie for her behavior prior to attending rehab. They are distrusting, if not xenophobic, towards Bee, but it’s not like she’s getting singled out. All of these characters are horrible to each other, except maybe Greg, who is too stupid to know better.
They decide to play a game called “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” which older millennials and up might remember as “Mafia” or “Werewolf.” This is a social game, more about lying than murder, but here, the latter takes charge. One bloody death sends everyone into a drugged and panicked hallucinatory evening, rife with finger-pointing and iPhone flashlights abound.
The script by Sarah DeLappe (based on a spec by “Cat Person” author Kristen Roupenian) is rife with references and jokes for members of a certain generation, perhaps convinced that there’s nothing about the “zillennial class” worth saving. These are addicts and paranoiacs with little original thought or motivation to be anything but a monetized version of themselves.
Still, for a screenplay that hates all these characters so much, it’s hard not to want a movie that is willing to go a little nastier with all of them. Grosser kills, perhaps, or meaner moments. At times, the film is often too soft on the people it’s purporting to make fun of, like handling a pair of garden shears with kid gloves.
It’s possible, also, that “Bodies Bodies Bodies” has a bit of a leads problem. Stenberg and Bakalova, though talented in their own regards, are drowning under the weight of the premise, both given far too little to do for a movie of which they are ostensibly the protagonists. Herrod, who plays the fierce and frightening Jordan, is a cipher to watch, intriguing and richly realized. And “Shiva Baby” breakout Rachel Sennott is certainly the funniest of the group, as Alice is prone to theatrics and hysteria. Her character’s desperate desire to relate everything back to herself provides some welcome levity as the accusations abound.
The arguing is the point, however, and in “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” there’s certainly a lot of it. Five minutes of this film may resemble some of the worst days on Twitter, full of needless input and virtue posturing. Trapped in a gory comedy of errors, these characters are far more content to police each other’s manners than they are to find the killer (or killers) that snort coke among them.
For all its character specificity, there’s an odd vagueness to its setting. These characters are “upstate” in a mansion owned by the parents of Davidson’s character, although it’s suggested that this is not the only mansion owned by the family of a member of this group. The house, while spacious and luxurious enough to make for a compelling setting, feels wasted in the case of “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” The film never lets its audience get a sense of its layout, of its traps and corridors, of its rooms and closets; sure, it’s not a real estate movie, but there’s some tension taken out of its more action-driven scenes. Where are we? What hallway is this? And where is everyone going? Perhaps the confusion is the point, but in a house with this many creaks and moans (and screams), it ought to have a bit of character too.
There’s an inherent push and pull to “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” a movie that wants to be a send-up for a certain type of young person but also doesn’t want to be “about” much of anything. The horror genre has fallen victim to Big Important Theme–ism of late, and it’s a relief that “Bodies Bodies Bodies” doesn’t descend into a lecture (in fact, it descends into many funny, insincere ones instead). But it all doesn’t amount to very much at all.
Though it has a neat ending, with little room for spinoff or misinterpretation, the whole thing feels relatively nihilist and toothless at the end of the day. The characters are left wondering what the point of it all was. So is its audience.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” opens in select theaters Aug. 5 and nationwide Aug. 12.