It all begins with the close-up of a swoony smooch between two young women, so lucidly into each other that the camera refuses to see anything other than their passion.
Sensual, alive and refreshingly immodest, this thirsty kiss almost serves as a pledge by director Halina Reijn on what kind of a movie her riotously entertaining “Bodies Bodies Bodies” would be. And what a thrill to discover by the end that she would make good on that promise with her survive-the-night whodunit. In that regard, gear up for a Gen Z “And Then There Were None,” enmeshed with the lush nihilism of “A Bigger Splash” and social anxieties of “Knives Out”; one that neither shyly minces uncomfortable words nor skimps on character development however problematic its personalities might be.
This open-handedness is truly a bold gamble here, as Sarah DeLappe’s screenplay (from a story by Kristen Roupenian, the author of the wildly popular New Yorker short story, Cat Person), doesn’t exactly offer up a likable group of personas. Played by an electric Amandla Sternberg (“The Hate U Give”) and the wonderful “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” breakout Maria Bakalova respectively, the aforementioned snoggers Sophie and Bee are the first two of the bunch that we get to meet. With little snippets of information here and there, we pick up that they are in a fairly new relationship, on their way to a house party at the mansion of the very rich David (a goofy Pete Davidson), Sophie’s best, longtime friend. Also in the mix would be Pete’s posey girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), the competitive go-getter Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) and the fiery Alice played by an intensely bold, charismatic and present Rachel Sennott (“Shiva Baby”), the easy standout of the cast as a hilariously oblivious podcaster who can afford to talk a little less. The oddity in a sea of twentysomethings is Alice’s much older boyfriend, the 40-year-old Greg (Lee Pace).
With the exception of the modest Bee, these are all insufferably rich people, you see. But their money still can’t mask the pettiness that runs amok amongst their ranks. Grudges begin to surface as soon as Sophie and Bee walk into the grand mansion to everyone’s shock. Why didn’t Sophie respond to group chat and confirm her attendance? Who is that Bee she brought along? (With lingering feelings for Sophie, Jordan seems especially bitter about Bee’s presence.) It all feels like a perfect storm of resentments amongst the group, bested only by the real hurricane on approach, the actual catalyst of the house party filled with booze, drugs and silly games to be played in the dark.
Being the chief of those games, the murder-mystery-themed Bodies Bodies Bodies sets all the debauchery in motion across the imposing chambers of the estate. Before we know it, the posse loses all power and bloody bodies actually start falling one by one, against the backdrop of a raging storm and Disasterpeace’s increasingly alarming score. Working with “Monos” cinematographer Jasper Wolf, Reijn makes terrific use of all the nooks and crannies of the house’s handsome interiors, nimbly navigating a mazy string of events with edge-of-your-seat intrigue, a decent dose of frights and a genuine sense of humor. Every effective slasher—at least good ones like the original “Scream,” which lends “Bodies Bodies Bodies” generous amounts of its DNA—is a dance between what the camera shows vs. chooses to conceal. Well-versed in genre language, Reijn keeps you guessing here, sometimes even making you wish you could rewind to a few seconds ago and take another look at what just happened. (Needless to say, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a terrific candidate for repeat viewings in the theater once you take in its unexpected reveal, thanks in no small part to its sensational ensemble.)
Equally successful as the visuals is the plausibility in which Reijn constructs the world the spoiled youngsters live in. Sure, from “gaslighting” to “ally,” plenty of trendy buzz words get thrown around by these folks who spend their entire lives digitally on social media, TikTok and group messaging, to say the least. But in “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” these words add up to a lot more than empty box-ticking, guided by an insightful script working overtime to portray its individuals not as strawmen, but as real, actual flesh-and-blood members of Gen Z. First, you get to know them well, intoxicated by their organic chemistry. (It can’t be overstated how marvelous the ensemble is.) And shortly after, you begin questioning how well you actually know them; wondering whether you missed something previously, as one might do even with one’s close friends from time to time.
The fun part is, your struggle is thoroughly shared by the entire cast of players, as they try to figure out who the murderer might be throughout a night marked by complex dynamics around gender, age, class, and visceral insecurities. It’s quite a ride even when the tempo drops ever so slightly towards the end; the kind of stuff fun summer entertainment should be made of.