Producers: David Hinojosa and Ali Herting Director: Halina Reijn Screenplay: Sarah DeLappe Cast: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson, Rachel Sennott, Myha’la Herrold, Chase Sui Wonders, Lee Pace and Conner O’Malley Distributor: A24 Films
The 1939 mystery novel by Agatha Christie with a title that was nursery-rhyme based, yet so offensive that it was already changed in the American edition of the following year and could not even be uttered today without condemnation, provided a template of sorts for Halina Reijn’s second feature, with a script by Sarah DeLappe based on a short story by Kristen Roupenian. This time around, though, it might have been called “Seven Little Twerps” instead of “Ten Little…” well, you know. Of course, the premise about the guests at an isolated house who are killed one by one has been used by others than Christie, and here it’s also been repositioned as a satire on millennial and Gen Z self-absorption and mutual malice.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” begins with passionate lovemaking by two of the people who are coming to a “hurricane party” being held at an opulent mansion: Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), who’s successfully completed a stint in rehab, and her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova), an uptight, quiet young college student who’s unsettled at the prospect of meeting Sophie’s rich, entitled friends.
With good reason, as it turns out. The gathering is being hosted by David (Peter Davidson), whose parents own the place—a snide, relentlessly rude fellow who’s apparently already been punched in the eye by someone he’d offended—the now-absent Max (Conner O’Malley). His girlfriend is Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), an aspiring actress who claims to empathize with everybody. Then there’s Alice (Rachel Sennott), a proud podcaster who’s brought as her date Greg (Lee Pace), a mellow older guy she linked up with on a social media site. The last in the small group is Jordan (Myha’la Herrold), who’s angry at the world, and especially Sophie, her ex, who disappeared without a word and now shows up clean and doting on someone else.
When Sophie and Bee arrive—the latter with a gift of zucchini bread that is immediately ridiculed—the others are in the pool, having a contest to determine which of them can stay submerged longest. (Greg wins, proclaiming what huge lungs he’s got.) It’s a sequence nicely shot by cinematographer Jasper Wolf, one of only a few that provide him with much of a chance to show off his skill in creating a deceptively placid tone: the on-and-off storm soon knocks out the power, leaving everything in half-darkness except for the light of cell phones, which otherwise are reduced to uselessness when service fails and chaos erupts in the house. That change is conveyed in Wolf’s now frenetic camerawork and hectic editing by Taylor Levy and Julia Bloch.
Things haven’t been exactly calm from the start, with lots of verbal backbiting among these supposed friends against the plush background of April Lasky’s production design. But they go wildly out of control after the gang decide to engage in the titular role-playing game that’s rather like a live-action version of clue. One person is randomly designated as a killer, and quietly offs one of the others, who plays dead as the others try to guess the identity of the perpetrator. The game goes fairly well at first, but quickly devolves into nasty arguments, and eventually a person winds up with a slashed throat. Suspicions erupt over who the murderer is, and before long other corpses join the first.
The mystery, as it turns out, is resolved not by a typical detective-story unmasking but by a dark joke (which, to be fair, has been telegraphed). But it really plays second fiddle to the dialogue, loaded with snarky insults and accusations, ludicrously au courant terms pompously lifted from popular platforms, incessant self-justifications, spiteful revelations and classist comments. Bee is a prime target of the last, of course, but Jordan, who has a habit of proclaiming her struggles against the odds, gets a quick, devastating dressing-down too.
Some of this is actually pretty funny, but it gets old fairly fast, especially since most of the characters are so utterly obnoxious. Traditional mysteries may be populated by thinly-drawn figures one never much cares about—deaths are just pieces of a puzzle, not events to shed a tear over—but here most of this crowd are so revolting that you might actively root for them to get knocked off as speedily as possible.
In a way that’s a testament to the quality of the performances—the actors really make you loathe the people they’re playing—but by the time the film has gone into overdrive in the last act, with survivors screaming at one another in oppressive close-up and spastic camera swerves while Disasterpeace’s music pounds away, you’re likely to be wishing they’d all just check out so that you could, too. In the end there will be survivors, though—the least detestable ones, naturally—and presumably you as well.
These characters surely deserve their grisly fates, and the ridicule heaped on them, but the movie is neither clever nor sharp enough to make it worth spending ninety minutes in their company.