The premise of “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is simple enough: A group of 20-somethings gather at a mansion for a “hurricane party” in which a natural weather phenomenon is sufficient excuse to consume copious amounts of alcohol and other drugs. The group soon decides to play the film’s titular game, a cross between Mafia and hide-and-seek, in which a “killer” picks people off in the dark. When one of the players is found with their throat slashed, however, the partygoers realize a real-life murderer is among them.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the English-language debut for Dutch director Halina Reijn, is a comedic yet high-tension look at stoned young adults fighting to stay alive. Dull moments are scarce as alliances change, mysteries multiply and arguments end with the pull of a trigger. I’m sure my theater would have been filled with laughs and gasps throughout the film if I hadn’t gone to see it on a Tuesday afternoon.
Although, the one other person in my theater seemed to have a good time.
While often described as a horror or comedy-horror film, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” appears unconcerned with the conventions of the slasher genre. Deaths are simple, to the point and happen — mostly — with minimal gore. The only real jumpscare turns out to be a prank. Rather than fear of when the killer will strike next, the suspense is driven by constant arguing and mistrust. The lack of true horror allows viewers to focus more on the psychology of the characters and the subtext the film offers.
The message of “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is not particularly subtle. Characters argue about the relevance of the term “gaslighting.” An attempt to deduce the killer is derailed by the revelation that one of them only “hate-listens” to another’s podcast. Two women, each convinced that the other is the killer, fight over a cell phone rather than a nearby loaded gun.
But a lack of subtlety here doesn’t mean a lack of intelligence.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” combines a compelling plot with compelling satire without ever sacrificing one for the other. The film pinpoints the pitfalls that arise when its characters attempt to apply their familiar logic of 140-character debates to a murder investigation.
As its dwindling cast goes from argument to argument, rarely talking one at a time, director Reijn highlights the rampant nature of confirmation bias, virtue signaling and the desperation to create in- and out-groups. The film's careful craft and care to understand the nuanced experience of young people set it a cut above the all-too-common reactionary, Baby-Boomer-driven critiques of Gen Z and social media.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” criticizes the way we act online rather than criticizing any particular platform or medium itself. The message is never “maybe you would have survived if you weren't on that pesky cell phone,” but rather “maybe you would have survived if you were thinking critically and listening to what others had to say.” Without getting too specific, a twist towards the end only hammers this point home.
Reijn recognizes the way in which spending all our time on the internet can erode our sense of rationality and nuance, dumbing us down to our most selfish and tribal impulses. In this sense, the horror of “Bodies Bodies Bodies” goes deeper than anything Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger can provide.
Editor's Note: This article was amended at 2 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4 to add the sentence beginning with "The film's careful craft" to clarify and further detail the praise for Director Reijn present in that paragraph.