Amandla Stenberg, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Chase Sui Wonders, Lee Pace, Maria Bakalova, Myha'la Herrold, Pete Davidson, Rachel Sennott
In a remote mansion, while torrential wind and rain rage outside, the power goes out and so does the life of one person after another in this wicked horror black comedy that has the ancient bones of an Agatha Christie mystery but a style that is every inch Gen Z. Amandla Stenberg and Pete Davidson head up an ensemble cast in a film that might be summarized as love hurts while blood spurts.
Stenberg is Sophie, a recovering addict, who shows up at the party at her lifelong BFF David’s (Pete Davidson) parents’ estate unexpectedly, new working-class, immigrant girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) in tow. Sophie wasn’t expected, not even David is happy to see her, hissing, “What’s she doing her?” to his actor girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), hinting at the bridges Sophie’s burned. She and Bee aren’t the only interlopers: oblivious podcaster Alice (Rachel Sennott) has brought her new, middle-aged Tinder boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace), a genial hippie nearly old enough to be her dad the others believe to be an Afghanistan war veteran.
Completing the group and the only partygoer without a partner is Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), an ex of Sophie’s who also feels a bit out of place in the company of rich kids. She is, as Alice points out, upper-middle-class, but she doesn’t feel that way since her parents are but professors – at a state college. Her unease and apparent unresolved issues with Sophie add to the uneasy dynamics in a house in which none of the couples quite fit and the snobbery is as rampant as the drug and alcohol abuse. Add to that the titular party game, in which one person is the designated murderer, another becomes the victim, and then rather than solve the mystery, everyone fights. It’s a tense atmosphere long before the first real body drops.
Sophie and Bee are the most fully realized characters and Davidson’s David is the most head-scratching, not quite believable as a scion of enormous wealth. But Davidson wasn’t cast for that but because he’s a gifted physical comic who can deliver a funny line. And while there are nods to the class struggle in the way Bee and Greg are treated by the group, the film is not social satire. It’s a broad comedy with a body count.
In an era of inflated running times, Dutch director Halina Reijn (Instinct) wisely keeps hers down to 95 minutes, keeping the suspense running high and the laughs coming. Shooting in near darkness in many scenes where the only light appears to come from flashlights, cell phones, and glow stick jewelry, cinematographer Jasper Wolf creates an atmosphere of menace. Adding to that ambience is Disasterpeace’s strident score.
Bodies Bodies Bodies’ greatest strength is its screenplay by Sarah DeLappe, adapting Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker story, which offers a memorable portrait of a certain segment of a generation while building up to one blisteringly hilarious denouement. There is nothing new under the sun when murder is afoot in a big house in the middle of nowhere but DeLappe transforms a story that could easily have been hackneyed into something fresh and hilarious. This is a film modest in its ambitions that delivers a big payoff. –Pam Grady