With a stellar cast, tight filmmaking, and a setup and payoff that are equal parts hilarious and tragic, Bodies Bodies Bodies excels at its tonal juggling act.
Horror and comedy in their purest forms are about as diametrically opposed you can get, and yet they’re mixed together in storytelling all the time. Despite how tricky it must be to make such a combination work, I’ve loved more than enough attempts to have A24’s Bodies Bodies Bodies be one of my most anticipated films of South by Southwest. Thankfully, it turned out to be another film in what’s so far been an amazing lineup. Not only does director Halina Reijn get in a ton of laughs as well as a ton of drama and thrills, but her film takes the murder-mystery premise and turns it on its head in a way a lot of people might not see coming.
Bee (Maria Bakalova) and Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) are a loving young couple who attend a hurricane party at the home of their rich friend (Pete Davidson). They and the rest of their friends decide to play a game of Bodies Bodies Bodies, where someone has to “kill” everyone else before being found out as the killer (so basically an in-person Among Us). But just as the power goes out, their cell reception is lost, and their car fails to start, one of these friends ends up dead for real. This of course sends the rest of the group into a frenzy as they all try to figure out who the killer is, resulting in bad blood and dirty secrets being dug back up as these young people show that their biggest threat is perhaps themselves.
And that’s all I’m going to say regarding the specifics of the plot, because one of the biggest treats of Bodies Bodies Bodies is the unraveling of what’s really behind all of these deaths and how it connects to the increasing mental instability of characters you come to genuinely care about. If I were to read a lot of the dialogue earlier on in particular, I would probably get the impression that these were just your typical generic young adult horror film characters. But the performances really bring so much sincerity and charm to everyone. Bee, for instance, is very sympathetic in the clear discomfort she has at being among these more raucous personalities and trying to fit in, which is portrayed entirely through Maria Bakalova’s expressions with almost no dialogue. You want a lot of these people to make it out, and you’re surprised and bummed out when some of them don’t.
One or two characters are intentionally unlikeable, but even that adds to the drama between everyone that builds throughout the film. There’s a really uncomfortable sequence among remaining characters where most of their darker secrets or opinions are viciously brought to light, and the seeds planted beforehand make this explosion feel very warranted and even a little hard to watch. When all is said and done, it’s clear that this group of friends was deeply troubled and maybe destined to fall apart even without anyone dying. Whether it be some deep insecurities, shameful addictions, or hidden resentments, everyone is already grappling with something dark, and the collision of all these problems proves to be just as dangerous as any killer.
Even so, Bodies Bodies Bodies still manages to be uproariously funny. Not just because of its many funny lines and deliveries, but because of the situations and even the nature of the kills, which get simultaneously more tragic and funnier the more you find out who or what has been responsible. The final reveal was exactly what I was starting to suspect and really hoping would be correct, and it had everyone in the theater bursting with laughter and applauding. I love murder mystery stories like Murder on the Orient Express or Knives Out that play with the very idea of what the mystery even is, making it much more complicated than a simple killer with a motive, and Bodies Bodies Bodies is one of the funniest but also saddest examples of that I’ve seen. It’s funny because of how ridiculous and overblown the scenarios are, but sad because of how heavy the consequences are as these characters lose their minds and turn on each other.
There’s one more great character in the film that I’ve neglected to mention until now: the lighting. I’m not kidding, as even the cast and director called the lighting a character after the movie, and I completely agree. The power in the house is completely dead for the entire night, but everyone still has the flashlights on their phones. Reijn and cinematographer Jasper Wolf take full advantage of this to create a simplistically creepy environment that plays with what we can see and when we can see it, making the audience feel as helpless as the characters. We also get a few really intimidating shots of characters’ faces against the darkness around them. The actors apparently had to somewhat improvise this aspect, making themselves a part in the visual construction of the film, which adds a great burst of spontaneity and energy to an already-energized experience. The score, done by Rich Vreeland, somehow manages to be both funky and suspenseful, keeping in line with the film’s overall tone. The house is shot very nicely to give you a sense of scale, but the film also knows how to make itself tight and claustrophobic in the most explosive and violent moments.
Bodies Bodies Bodies isn’t one of the most groundbreaking films of its type, but damn if it doesn’t succeed at absolutely everything it sets out to do. Outside of maybe how occasionally one-note the writing is for a few characters, I don’t have a single major complaint towards anything. This horror comedy surprised me in all the ways I wanted it to, and it had the exact payoff that I found myself hoping for. It finds a setup and endgame that are ripe for this kind of tonal juggling act, and it makes the most of them, making for what will probably be one of the best films of the entire year. As of now, there’s apparently no set wide release date, but I advise anyone who likes these kinds of movies to keep their eyes on Bodies Bodies Bodies and see it as soon as they can. Among the festival’s more high-profile releases, this is a madhouse of fun that goes toe-to-toe with them and can’t be overlooked.
Bodies Bodies Bodies premiered at SXSW 2022 on March 14, 2022. The film will be released in US theaters on August 5 and in UK cinemas on September 9, 2022.