‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’ Takes a Deliciously Savage Stab at Influencer Culture
If one looks close enough at influencer culture, you realize we live in uniquely absurd times. The internet has given everyone the power to commodify themselves. Fame is achieved by sporting the right brand or making the right pose. Sometimes it can happen through sheer luck. A particular new culture has been forming based on nothing more than the shallow power of images. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” gleefully takes aim at a particular sector of Gen Z with the kind of violent, vicious attitude that used to define satire. It’s a critique disguised within a slasher movie packaged in a group mystery thriller. No current buzzword or PC stance is left untouched. Some of it is bloody entertaining like a classic slasher movie while the rest casts a hilariously biting mirror at the culture that has come to define Instagram and Tik Tok.
At an isolated New York mansion a crop that defines privileged youth gather around to ride out an approaching hurricane. Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) has just gotten out of rehab and is surprised to find her group of fellow Zoomers and aspiring influencers a bit hostile. They resent the fact that she hasn’t been partaking in their group chat. Tagging along is Sophie’s new girlfriend, Bee (Maria Bakalova), who seems much too nice for this group. She even brings banana bread as a thank you gift. It won’t impress this jaded, vicious circle that includes cocky David (Pete Davidson), his sensitive girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), Alice (Rachel Sennott), who has brought along her new boyfriend, the much older Greg (Lee Pace). There’s also Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), Sophie’s ex. It’s going to be a night of subtle snipes and throwing of shade, until someone suggests they play the game “bodies bodies bodies.” When someone soon enough turns up dead paranoia sets in and there’s no safe space for anyone.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is an A24 production and while it’s skillfully directed by actor Halina Reijn, it continues the studio’s recent trend of making highbrow grindhouse, such as “X.” This one plays devilishly well like a cross between “Euphoria,” a slasher flick and Luis Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel,” the surrealist classic about a group of Mexican aristocrats who become savages when they can’t leave an opulent mansion. The screenplay by Sarah DeLappe imagines these characters as believable embodiments of how a generation is talking, at least its more narcissistic members. You can’t use one brush stroke for everyone, after all. Everyone in this house is defined by their online personas or competing over how up to date and woke they sound. When confronted over the low quality of her podcast, Emma can only respond with accusations of “gaslighting” and “toxic” behavior. Alice excuses her own antics by reminding everyone she has body dysmorphia and Sophie is constantly “triggered.”
But Reijin isn’t saying these terms lack validity, her target is how very real things are turned into fads, in the same way activist slogans are quickly commercialized. As the storm begins to rage and everyone is paranoid and terrified over a potential killer in their midst, their “woke” sensibilities give way to selfish, vicious paranoia. Someone gets hacked to death despite insisting on their innocence while Sophie gets told bluntly she’s not some struggling minority, but a privileged member of the middle class. Hanging around watching some of the drama unfold is Greg, who is a serenely funny take on the Gen Xer or elder millennial refusing to grow up. He’s a “vet” but no one is sure what that means. Maybe he fought in Afghanistan, no one knows. He’s just an “older guy” surely taking advantage of Alice. Yet he’s so chilled out compared to these anxiety-prone teens who start losing it when the storm knocks out all electricity, leaving them with nothing but their shallow identities to face the mysterious murderer.
Reijin finds the perfect tone and style to pull this off as a cross-genre entertainment. The satire bites, especially when everyone starts virtue signaling or checking texts, but there are genuine moments of excellent slasher suspense. Action is staged with plenty of shocks and blood-soaked twists. Like other A24 films, this one wants to take grindhouse to a level of higher artistry but achieves it with a sharp trashiness similar to “Spring Breakers.” The entire cast is absorbed in their performances, maybe because they surely know people like this every day. Amandla Stenberg swiftly shifts between empathy and meanness while Maria Bakalova gives almost the perfect homage to the innocent, virginal player in classic horror thrillers. She’s so inexperienced compared to these social media sharks, who cheerfully inform her she’s been eating a cake laced with weed.
The final act of “Bodies Bodies Bodies” culminates with a refreshing and hilarious twist that defies the usual expectations. Answers to who killed who are delivered in a fashion that is also a rather brilliant jab at Tik Tok culture. All it takes is one machete to ruin a party. It’s a rather bold genre film for Reijin to make because of the tightrope walk the material needs. Attacking the demented ideas of the right-wing is easy, but doing a critique of how language and attitudes have been appropriated or distorted by kids too privileged to know what they’re saying can easily become a reactionary mess. Instead, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” can bring out a laugh from the most liberal viewer in the audience because it isn’t attacking an ideology. It’s jabbing at a soulless way of being in tragically comic times.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” releases Aug. 5 in select cities, Aug. 12 in theaters nationwide.