When its title card arrived alongside a grating hyperpop song, I was worried that Bodies Bodies Bodies would be an exercise in empty, insufferable style. Bodies isn’t without an aesthetic, mind you, but it’s never as punishing as the opening might lead one to believe – its titles simply set the tone for its Gen-Z vibe, which the movie captures with varying degrees of success.
Our closest thing to a protagonist is introverted, soft-spoken Bee (Maria Bakalova), who’s accompanying her brash new girlfriend Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) to a “hurricane party” at the lavish home of David (Pete Davidson), Sophie’s childhood friend. When they arrive, the movie efficiently introduces the rest of its characters, all of whom have something suspicious about them: there’s David’s actress girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), shallow podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott), Alice’s older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace), and distrustful Jordan (Myha’la Herrold).
After a long day of partying, Sophie proposes a game of “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” a take on the classic party game Murder, in which a randomly-drawn “killer” dispatches “victims” and the surviving members of the group try to deduce the culprit’s identity. The game quickly turns ugly, its make-believe accusations devolving into a series of real-life grievances and recriminations; this comes as little surprise considering several of the partygoers are involved in a complex, incestuous love-polygon. Minutes after the argument reaches its peak, a member of the group is found with their throat slit, and the survivors find themselves conducting a very real search for the killer.
Despite its horror trappings – a spooky mansion with no power and no cell service, a killer on the loose, brief spurts of gore – Bodies is a mystery at heart, more Christie than Craven. This is only to its benefit, since its few attempts at horror are halfhearted and ineffective. Its most substantial pleasures are those of a classic whodunit: staging a nimble, deadly guessing game played by the audience as well as the characters; one given a fresh, day-glo coat of paint in the form of its Gen-Z satire.
Said satire is Bodies’s least consistent feature, prompting knowing laughter or cringing silence depending on the scene. The young cast nails the milieu’s upwardly-inflected, vocal-fried speech patterns, but the cute, lingo-heavy dialogue is frequently on the nose. Here, and in all other respects, the unquestionable MVP is Senott, the only cast member who can consistently make the stylized lines sing. Her narcissistic space cadet Alice pulls off the neat trick of being so clueless that she becomes endearing; while everyone else is two-faced in one way or another, she’s the only character in the bunch who’s genuinely guileless.
Bodies’s storyoffers some unexpected turns, but isn’t immune to the more contrived rules of its genre: people keep splitting off from the group well after the killing starts. And in the grand tradition of murder mysteries, the climax is verbal rather than physical, a showdown of vicious accusations between a few survivors. It’s clever and well-acted, but goes on too long, and finds the movie at its most indulgent in its use of trendy buzzwords.
The once-sprightly Bodies runs out of steam in its finale, where no amount of slick visuals can cover the unmistakable smell of padding, but it manages an amusingly dark ending, with a final twist that’s both outlandish and understated. Though such moments stretch credibility, Bodies’ saving grace is that it never cheats. Some of its twists are more believable than others, but there’s always a fundamental respect for the audience, and that makes it worth investigating.