BODIES, BODIES, BODIES answers the question “What if a group of friends, trapped in a house in the middle of nowhere, suddenly turned on each other?” Actually, the more salient question is what if a group of friends, with varying degrees of irritating personality disorders, found themselves in those circumstances, would anyone care who made it out alive? The answer is, well, no. Fortunately, there is a doughty outsider, who may or may not be the killer, or one of the killers, and thus do we have someone for whom to root. Criminality notwithstanding. Sort of.
The outsider is Bee (Maria Bakalova), a timid creature from Russia who has fallen under the spell of Sophie (Amandla Stenberg). They have been together for six weeks, and though Sophie has told Bee that she is in love with her, Bee has responded with only a sweet, slightly pitying smile. They are headed to a hurricane party at the remote and luxurious home of Sophie’s best friend, David (Pete Davidson). Well, actually it’s his father’s house, and almost everyone else there has known each other for many, many years.
Even before the hurricane hits, and the power fails, the tensions that this group has had on simmer for most of those years comes out, starting with the pair’s arrival, when Bee delivers a home-baked zucchini bread to the general eye-rolling of the wealthy, 20-something trust-funders, and Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), tearing into Sophie for showing up at all. This is followed with delivering a stink-eye with extreme prejudice to Bee. Things get worse when they play the eponymous Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. In it, a randomly drawn lot designates one person as the murderer, the lights are shut off, and that person finds a victim, taps them on the back as a symbolic death blow, leaving the victim on the floor for another player to find and yell the name of the game. The survivors have to figure out who the killer is, but this being a group of deeply dysfunctional human beings, it devolves into acrimony and tears when the body is found. David, the prime suspect, rips into his actress girlfriend, Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), for being vapid, and, ahem, storms out when his friends take her side. By the time the actual storm reaches its peak, and the power and cell-phone coverage fail, there’s been an actual death, and the group turns on the only other outsider, Greg (Lee Pace), the hippie-esque older guy Alice (Rachel Sennott), the fledgling podcaster and good-natured flake, has been dating for two weeks. She defends him by pointing out that he’s a Libra moon, which means he couldn’t have done it, despite the knife he’s packed for the weekend.
In a bold move writers Sarah DeLappe and Kristen Roupenian have not tried to soften the hard edges of their dislikable characters. Davidson, sporting a black eye at the outset, is the most obviously toxic, wielding David’s narcissism with giddy panache. The way he crunches down on his girlfriend’s lollypop, handed to him for safekeeping as they snort a few lines, makes any act of aggression against him feel like a righteous act. Then there’s the way Herrold makes that stink eye into a palpably abrasive weapon that lands as thoroughly as the punch Jordan delivers to Bee during a drinking game involving doing shots and then slapping the person seated to the right. The rest are more slyly written, with even Alice’s attempts at wokeness becoming an irksome exercise in the same clueless lack of empathy these frenemies share.
While we are turning on the characters, they are also turning on each other as the body count rises, and the obvious suspects are included among the dead. Trapped with no way to drive away from the carnage, stumbling in the dark with only flashlights and cell phones to guide them, the group becomes less coherent as the tension rises precipitously, the blood flows copiously as suspense and satire form a curiously unsettling symbiotic relationship that keeps everyone, us included, on edge.
The mayhem builds into a thoroughly disorienting experience that manages to make everyone and no one seem guilty of murder. At one point, after shooting someone in the leg in front of several witnesses, the shooter denies having done it. It’s done with a straight face and such a tone of conviction that the full extent of this person’s break with reality is evident, while that person’s previous acquaintance with reality in general comes into question. The rebuke from the victim, in addition to informing the group that being shot hurts, involves social standing and income bracket, calling into question more than can be explicated here, but you get the idea. Full of wicked judgment calls, and an even more wicked punch line, BODIES, BODIES, BODIES castigates a particularly regrettable aspect of the cultural zeitgeist with the same nastiness that the characters spew at one another. Cringe-inducing? You bet. And for all the wrong reasons.