Wednesday 22 March 2023

BFI Flare: Bodies Bodies Bodies (Halina Reijn, 2022)

On Sunday, Halina Reijn's Bodies Bodies Bodies will be the final film to screen at this year's BFI Flare, where it comprises part of the festival's Best of Year strand.  As far as this selection of highlights from the past 12 months is concerned, Reijn's second feature as director is anomalous insofar as it is the only film in the strand not to have played at last year's London Film Festival.  The other titles in Best of Year are Laura Poitras' opioid epidemic documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, Elegance Bratton's autobiographical military tale The Inspection, and Georgia Oakley's feature debut Blue Jean; with its focus on a closeted schoolteacher, Oakley's superb film has a strong thematic connection to the late Ron Peck's Nighthawks, the quasi-sequel to which is also included in this edition of Flare.  While Best of Year consists of just four titles, each film is very different from the others, and all are worth seeing; holing up in London's BFI Southbank with this quadruple bill would be a fine way to end your Flare experience for this year.  

Groningen native Reijn's directorial feature debut Instinct was a work that promised much but ultimately delivered very little; the filmmaker's follow-up feature—her first to be filmed in English—is a notch or two up from the wildly uneven Instinct, and as such it marks some progress on the part of its maker.  Backers A24—who also produced The Inspection—were certainly pleased with Bodies Bodies Bodies, so much so that they picked up Instinct for North American distribution.  The past year has seen A24 turn out much better, wittier and more intelligent horror movies than Bodies Bodies Bodies—Ti West's X and its prequel Pearl are both greatly superior works—yet Reijn's film has enough about it to keep the viewer engaged.  Like many a horror, Bodies Bodies Bodies is set against the backdrop of a dark and stormy night, and the director is quite happy to lean into familiar tropes as she spins the story of a bunch of (mostly) rich Gen Z-ers attending a hurricane party in a mansion.       

After some initial bickering, the guests decide to play the wink murder-style game of the film's title, and it isn't long before David (Pete Davidson), the waspish host of the party, is found dead, his throat slashed by an unknown assailant.  Cue much hysteria and suspicion among the survivors, who have to deal with this shocking discovery while stumbling around a huge, unfamiliar house, one that, thanks to the storm, is presently lacking electricity and mobile phone coverage—the latter of which, we can only presume, is more offensive to these self-absorbed individuals than the sight of David's bloodied corpse.  As the night wears on, the bodies pile up, and eventually just two members of the group remain; each maintains her innocence, and the evidence—or lack of it—makes it hard for the viewer to decide which of these young women is responsible for the mayhem of the past few hours.  That we have seen one of these final girls bludgeon someone to death should make it easy for us to draw a conclusion, but Reijn and screenwriter Sarah DeLappe have other ideas, leading to a big reveal that is genuinely impressive.   

Bodies Bodies Bodies is largely populated with intentionally unlikeable characters, and such films often struggle to maintain viewer interest; with this in mind, it is to Halina Reijn's credit that she manages to make her film consistently involving.  That Reijn has her tongue planted firmly in her cheek is obvious from the casting—in addition to former Saturday Night Live fixture Davidson, Bodies Bodies Bodies features a string of performers also better known for comedy: Shiva Baby's Rachel Sennott; Conner O'Malley of Late Night with Seth Myers fame; and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm star Maria Bakalova.  Of the cast, it is Sennott who makes the biggest impression as Alice, a glowstick-adorned podcaster who may be the closest the film gets to a sympathetic character.  Propelled along by both a superb Disasterpiece score and a thumping Charli XCX theme song, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a more effective modern whodunnit than the much-vaunted Glass Onion, and it signals even better things ahead for Halina Reijn.

Darren Arnold

Images: A24