Movie Review: “Bodies Bodies Bodies” gives the people what they want

On the sliding scale of “house party that turns to murder mystery” films, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” falls on the “Ready or Not” end of the spectrum, with “Knives Out” on the other.

It’s glib, topical, jokey and bloody, and as the headline says, it “gives the people what they want.”

Long lesbian make-out scene opener? Check. The young, the beautiful and the affluent wantonly misbehaving with drugs, casual hook-ups and unsafe glow necklaces? Check. Topical jokes mocking “triggers” that “ableist” “self-actualizers” carelessly fling at each other, because it’s the “woke” thing to do?

Oh, check.

Pete Davidson leaning into being “the most obnoxious of all” and gruesomely murdered early in the first act?

Check and check again.

Shockingly, it isn’t only comic book franchises that can pander to their “base” and have a little fun with it as they do.

Dutch actress turned director Halina Reijn (“Instinct”) and first-time screenwriter Sarah DeLappe fling a lot of sex appeal and cultural currency at Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” plot, itself a variation of works by genre-inventor Edgar Allan Poe. It’s a dark, hit-or-miss one-by-one mass murder comedy that caters to Gen Z and backhands it — hard — at the same time.

What fun!

The setup? A bunch of rich, aimless youth gather at the country estate of insecure, defensive David’s (Davidson) rich dad for a hurricane party.

For those of you not from the Southeast, the ethos of such benders is “As long as you’re gonna get blown away, you might as well get blown away.”

The roomy mansion is a fine gathering place for David, his longline actress-girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), sister (I think) Alice (Rachel Sennott), her new beau, the much older “vet” Greg (Lee Pace), Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) and Jordan’s ex, Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Sophie’s shy, exotic new foreign-born inamorata, Bee (Maria Bakalova).

And what better time, with the power about to go out, a well-stocked bar and David’s easy access to Bolivian marching powder, for these idle richies to play their favorite game, “Bodies Bodies Bodies.”

Sure, Sophie’s post-rehab and “clean,” and the game — as they play it — begins with Slap Shots.

And as the ever-dramatic Emma reminds everyone, “Someone always ends up crying” by the end of this pick-a murder victim, with everyone else trying to guess who the killer is game.

Characters are sketched in — the over-the-top enthusiast Alice, her “cut” man-of-the-world lover, bitchy, intimidated David, dramatic Emma, feisty Jordan, who puts the moves on Bee and gets into cocky, womanizing Sophie’s head, with the shy, out-of-her-class Bee taking it all in.

The winds howl, the lights flicker, the “game” begins and then it all turns deadly serious.

Sennott, whose breakout turn was as the uninhibited sexpot “Shiva Baby,” pops off the screen here as well, making Alice a stunningly shallow rich ditz — of course she has a podcast — who is down for almost anything except deep thought. Sennott just kills it.

Pace plays the life life-of-the-party/man of the world Greg as someone who seems to have all the manly traits David never will — physical fitness, for starters.

Wonders affects an actressy air that serves her well in the game, but this is no ordinary game. And drugs and alcohol are the ultimate truth serum for how everybody feels about Emma.

“OK, not to be mean, but she wasn’t THAT good in ‘Hedda Gabler!'”

Stenberg (“Everything Everything,” “The Hate U Give”) does the fierce and fiery thing almost as well as Herrold (TV’s “Industry”).

Bakalova, an Oscar nominee for the “Borat” sequel, is good at giving us the mousy one everybody underestimates.

And Davidson may be the best working model of Russell Brand’s career experiment (something he up-front admitted in an interview with me), playing “the same character” over and over again, just a slight variation of his public persona. Davidson “acts” his “image,” the oversexed “vibe I put out there” that David brags about in “Bodies.” When we meet him, he’s blank-faced sporting a nasty black eye with pride. Drugs? On brand, too.

And if there’s one thing he mastered during his Kardashian sojourn, it’s that there’s value in being the object of scorn, the guy everybody wants to see “get it first.”

The unfolding plot makes just enough sense to get by, but that might be because it’s so predictable we can pretty much guess who dies and “in order of disappearance.”

It might be a tad too on the nose for the generation it’s poking fun at for Gen Z to take to it. The “types” here are broadly drawn and almost to a one, insulting. I kept thinking of “The Blair Witch Project” and its amusing “how incompetent these kids are in the woods” subtext.

A hurricane’s coming, and these seven are not concerned about the pool umbrellas they leave open outside, all the exposed windows and making lots of alcohol — and a case of bottled water for the seven of them — their “hurricane prep.” This or that character is fleeing someone they fear might be the murderer, and doing it by cellphone light in pitch black rooms, or wearing a glow necklace that will give away the game that’s no longer a game.

The battery dies on their escape vehicle, an SUV, but it’s not so dead that Sophie can’t rage-honk the horn for a minute or two. OK, that boner’s on the director.

Reijn shoots some splendid chases and life-and-death fights as seen by the waving, wobbling lights of cell phones, and the plot is tricky enough that even if we can guess where it’s going, we can’t really grasp how it began until we hit the finale.

That, and a whole lot of “giving the people what they want” keeps rigor mortis at bay in “Bodies Bodies Bodies.”

Rating: R for violence, bloody images, drug use, sexual references and pervasive language.

Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders, Lee Pace, Myha’la Herrold and Pete Davidson

Credits: Directed by Halina Reijn, scripted by
Sarah DeLappe. An A24 release.

Running time: 1:35

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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