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“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is in Theaters Now

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From director Halina Reijn (Instinct) comes the razor-sharp comedy and slasher-freakout Bodies Bodies Bodies.

Pre-order the movie now via my affiliate link on Amazon.

With a hurricane bearing down, a group of rich 20-somethings hole up in a remote family mansion stocked with food, flashlights, and drugs, ready to party their way through the storm.

Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) has brought her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) to meet her childhood friend, David (Pete Davidson), his girlfriend, Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), and their friends Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) and Alice (Rachel Sennott), who’s brought her older (as in 40-year-old) boyfriend, Greg (Lee Pace).

As night falls, lines are railed, and simmering grudges resurface, and the group decides to play one of their favorite games: Bodies Bodies Bodies. One player is designated the murderer, the lights go out, a victim gets tapped on the shoulder, and everyone tries to guess who the killer was. But when
the house’s power is cut, and people start getting killed for real, the old friends must survive the night and find the murderer in their midst—if they can just get over themselves first.

The second feature and English language debut by Dutch director Halina Reijn, Bodies Bodies Bodies introduces a fresh and indelible filmmaking voice. Reijn expertly combines a propulsive and fiercely funny mystery with an incisive portrait of fake friends, backstabbing, and privilege—a story of paranoia and not-so-secret insecurities that mines every bit of humor from a tightly-wound Gen Z meltdown.

Explains Reijn, “It’s meant to be an honest look at the times we live in. On one level, it’s designed to be a very entertaining film, but it’s also about sex and power, group dynamics, and, above all, honesty.” Reijn taps into the anxieties, uncertainties, and hysteria of a generation reared on social media, miscommunication, and the shifting definition of friendship.

She comments, “The film depicts both the toxicity but also the seduction of a friend group. We all live in a world where we’re not actually looking at each other or seeing what’s going on. The characters in the film, they’re not really looking at what’s taking place; they’re just reacting, and that becomes almost a hysteria. Under pressure, we’re much more driven by our primal urges than we would like to think.”

Notes Rachel Sennott, one of the stars of the film: “Everyone in this enclosed setting is experiencing extreme paranoia and turning on each other as all these little dramas within the
friend group start percolating up. It turns into a nightmare very quickly.”

Watch the Trailer:

When a group of rich 20-somethings plan a hurricane party at a remote family mansion, a party game goes awry in this fresh and funny look at backstabbing, fake friends, and one party gone very, very wrong.

The Young and the Restless

A thriller that mines the comedic core of bad relationships, Bodies Bodies Bodies places several characters in extreme duress under one roof as a storm rages outside. Over the course of a single dark and bloody night, an unknown killer—one of their own—ratchets up the body count during a
make-believe game turned real.

“These people have a deep love for one another; otherwise they wouldn’t be in the same place riding out a storm together,” says Myha’la Herrold, one of the film’s stars and a cast member on HBO’s high-finance drama “Industry.” “But as the storm approaches, suspicion mounts, and deep-seated resentment reaches a fever pitch. It doesn’t help that these people are strung-out beyond belief.”

Pete Davidson (The King of Staten Island, “Saturday Night Live”) plays David, the cocky, coke-snorting host whose absent parents own the McMansion where the bacchanalian gathering plays out. “David has the use of this big house, and his friends don’t really like him—they just use him for the party pad,” says Davidson. “As the night goes on, his relationship with his sweet but very confused girlfriend becomes increasingly volatile.

David’s girlfriend, Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), is an actress and natural mediator who has been dating David for six years. “Emma is deeply invested in being liked by her peers and doesn’t try to rock the boat too much,” says Wonders, who played Riley on HBO’s tumultuous teen drama “Generation.”

“She has a darkness that verges on masochism which she masks behind this calm and poised veneer. As the group starts playing the game, freakish incidents happen, and you realize these relationships are teetering on the verge of total destruction.”

Twentysomething Alice (Rachel Sennott) is a garrulous podcast host lacking self-awareness who met fortysomething Greg (Lee Pace) on Tinder and thinks nothing of dropping the older man into her close-knit circle of friends. “I was interested in the dynamic of this friend group because it examines the way people stay in toxic friendships,” says Sennott, the star of the 2020 indie comedy Shiva Baby. “They hold stuff down until everything surfaces with a vengeance. The writing felt
very true to my generation.”

As gregarious, fun-loving Greg, the lone grown-up in the room, Lee Pace (“Foundation”) injects intergenerational tension, playing a 40-year-old who tries to fit in with a younger crowd. “Greg is adventurous and carefree and all about good vibes, but he is ultimately struggling with these people,” says Pace. “Like the movie itself, they are all about chaos, privilege, self-obsession, and youth culture. Young as he appears, Greg can’t keep up.”

Type-A striver Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) is the lone singleton of the bunch who harbors residual longings for Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), who has brought her shy, unassuming working-class girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) into what quickly becomes a scheming nest of vipers.

“There’s an interesting and unspoken dynamic between these former girlfriends that bubbles and froths into sexual tension,” says Herrold. “Amandla plays Sophie with an intensity that is so visceral it surfaces in her eyes every time she appears with me in a scene. Getting to play off that was incredible.”

A square peg from the opening scenes of the movie, Bee is the quiet outsider who doesn’t have any context or back story for the teeming hive she’s stumbled into. “We see these friendships that were built up over years, and it seems like they don’t trust or even like each other,” says Bakalova, the breakout star of 2020’s Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. “For my character, it becomes a question of what we do for the people we love when we have a fear of disappointing them.”

A Most Dangerous Game

At the heart of Bodies Bodies Bodies is a variation on popular ‘social deduction’ party games in which players compete to unveil a killer who could be anybody. Players draw slips of paper, one of which has an X drawn on it, indicating the killer in the game. Only the killer knows their identity. Lights go off, and players disperse through the setting—in the case of the movie a sprawling McMansion with multiple levels, wings, and no electricity to illuminate the death toll.

“If someone gets murdered, the killer draws an X on the victim’s back, and they are effectively dead,” says Herrold. “Whoever stumbles upon the corpse shouts ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’ and the lights go back on. The remaining players try to figure out who did it and repeat the process until there is no one left standing.”

Things turn messy quickly when people in the film start to die for real in increasingly garish ways. High, trapped, and suspicious of each other’s motives, the players of Bodies Bodies Bodies descend into paranoia, hysteria, and bloodshed.

Reijn played a similar game with her own friends that resulted in unpredictable and volatile behavior. She explains, “It was psychological warfare—a game of manipulation, teaming up against each other, excluding friends, and feeling extremely paranoid, excited, insecure, and aggressive, all at the same time. Every game would end in a fight, a couple breaking up, someone making out with someone during the ‘killings,’ people leaving in anger. The atmosphere was always charged, erotic, tense. The structure of the script is the structure of the game: even when everybody is panicking and there is complete chaos in the house, the ‘players’ keep returning to the ‘game.’

Adds Wonders: “The game is all about lying to your friends’ faces, looking into their eyes, and completely fabricating this reality that isn’t there. It’s a fascinating mechanism for a social horror movie, being able to play upon this friend group in which everyone’s connections are supposed to be deep and honest despite this complete façade built into the framework of the game.”

Reijn sees a particular connection between the game and the culture of Gen Z. She elaborates, “Especially for this generation, we’re all acting. We’re all growing up in front of a camera. The game they play in the film is to catch the actor—you know, ‘is she acting,’ ‘what’s real and what’s not real?’ In some ways, the film is about the struggle to be truly intimate while being glued to our phones. We’re so used to trying to present a better version of ourselves online, and the question is who we are without that.”

Origins

Bodies Bodies Bodies has an initial connection to the acclaimed short story “Cat Person,” which went viral on social media after it appeared in The New Yorker in 2017. Written by Kristen Roupenian, the story recounts the brief relationship between a twentysomething college student and a 34-year-old man who asks her out. An intense text-message relationship blossoms, the duo hooks up, and rejection ensues when the younger party realizes her initial impression of the older man doesn’t match his actual personality.

The story tapped into generational anxiety about contemporary dating mores, toxic relationships, and our collective difficulty in balancing reality with online behavior. Its breakout popularity resulted in a bidding war among publishing houses and a seven-figure deal for Roupenian’s 2019 story collection You Know You Want This, which examined the complex and often funny connections between gender, sex, and power across multiple genres.

A24 got in touch with the author and soon read and acquired the rights to her debut screenplay, Bodies Bodies Bodies. To helm the project, they hired Amsterdam-born actress-turned-director Halina Reijn, renowned for her work with the Belgian stage director Ivo van Hove, whose visionary
productions of “Network,” “West Side Story” and “A View from the Bridge” were Broadway hits.

“Ivo taught me to be vulnerable and raw in my work—to never judge a character or think in a moralistic way about good and evil,” says Reijn. “He’s one of the great directors of our time, deconstructing classical plays and depicting themes of power, sexuality, control, violence, shame, and surrender. I’ve always wanted to explore the same subjects from a woman’s perspective, in my own way.”

Reijn’s debut feature was the 2019 psychological thriller Instinct, the official Dutch entry for the Best International Feature at the 92nd Academy Awards. The tense two-hander examined the doctor-patient relationship between a psychologist who gets a job in a prison and the manipulative sex offender she evaluates for probation. Rooted in a twisted powerplay, the film introduced a director with sharp instincts for eliciting tension out of complex relationship dynamics.

Reijn hired playwright Sarah DeLappe to flesh out Roupenian’s vision after being impressed by her award-winning play “The Wolves,” about a group of female high-school soccer players warming up for a weekly game. Set in an indoor soccer facility, the play captures nine teenage girls conversing on everything from global politics and body issues to social gossip and college plans. The show premiered Off-Broadway in September 2016 and became a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for
Drama, highly praised for its depiction of raw adolescence, which is brilliantly woven into an ensemble piece brimming with Altmanesque dialogue that explodes like teenage hormones.

“It was love at first sight when I read “The Wolves” because the characters were talking through each other and over each other, yet they each had their own distinctive voice,” says Reijn. “Sarah was the perfect voice for this film because her tone is so authentic, somewhere between realism and absurdism, irony and violence.”

“The authenticity of the dialogue also proved to be a major draw. Herrold notes, “There was never a moment of it that didn’t feel like listening to somebody my age speak. That’s hard to do and really exciting to read as an actor. This group of young people is obsessed with the drama of everything, good or bad. They just want to feel something, anything.”

Adds Stenberg: “I’m fascinated by the role horror movies play in reflecting society’s fears back to viewers, and Sarah did a brilliant job of toying with that concept and inverting it with her screenplay. In the film, the thing we are most afraid of is the privilege and ego of the characters; their value system is skewed because of how they’ve grown up. When everything falls apart, you realize they have no foundation whatsoever. Their personalities are the monsters.”

The result is a genre film at its wittiest and most intense. “The script holds up a mirror to the most toxic and depraved parts of these characters, and on top of that they’re put into these extreme scenarios where they become even more unhinged,” says Wonders. “Skirting the line between absurdist comedy and social satire verging on social horror, it never wags its fingers at these people or makes fun of them.”

House of Jealous Lovers

Bodies Bodies Bodies filmed in Chappaqua, New York, an exclusive enclave in Upstate New York that convincingly reflected the high-income demographics of most of the characters in the story. While location scouting, production designer April Lasky (Unsane) found an empty McMansion-style estate that had been on the market for several years, providing an ideal setting for a Covid-era production that had desolation and constriction in its DNA.

“Shooting an entire film in one location presents its own challenges, but there are many pros to it as well, the main one being you get to settle into a space and have more time to think about how you want things to look and feel,” says Lasky.

“With the power outage being central to the story, the colors and sheens selected for the interiors had to be chosen carefully and tested vigorously against the lighting scheme, which included flashlights, cell phones, and glowsticks in the blackout scenes.”

Reijn asked for as much preparation time as possible in the disused location because the big group scenes, with their complex character dynamics and volatile freakouts, would be challenging to film. “I asked the actors to learn their lines as if we were rehearsing for a play,” says Reijn. “In the end they were wonderful—they could do a big, complicated scene in one take.”

The house’s expansive living room became ground zero for the production’s meticulous rehearsal phase as well as its designated party wing where Reijn and the actors could block and choreograph complicated scenes that played out in darkness during the game-play sequences.

“The house gave us ample space to feel out its dimensions which was so liberating,” says Stenberg. “Our physical blocking and reactions to each other in motion became an important part of the process in terms of finding each scene.” Adds Bakalova: “Halina’s theatrical training was crucial for
this aspect of the production. She can explain things in a way that not many people can. We didn’t have months and months to prepare, but it felt very organized and precise. That’s the sign of a great director.”

A Shot in the Dark

Bodies Bodies Bodies marks Reijn’s second collaboration with the Dutch cinematographer Jasper Wolf, who shot Instinct as well as Alejandro Landes’ critically acclaimed war drama Monos.

“It’s a challenge to make a movie about a group of characters where the group itself is essentially the main character,” says Wolf, who served as camera operator on both Monos and Bodies Bodies Bodies. “I’d never done a movie that was confined to a singular location and played out over a single
night under the same roof and in darkness for much of the time—featuring 8 or 9-page sequences with six actors and high-paced energy and dialogue. This was a unique collaboration between director, actors, and cinematographer.”

With actors from different backgrounds across theatre, television, and stand-up comedy grappling with a tempo of mounting hysteria amid dwindling characters, Reijn and Wolf had to find ways to get the cast on the same wavelength for the long and demanding sequences in the dark—a complicated process requiring advance rehearsal, concise planning, meticulous camerawork, and extra focus when the characters become unhinged.

“I prepared them so that in the moment, when the camera rolls, they could follow their impulses and react to each other spontaneously,” says Reijn. “With Jasper operating the camera himself—intuitively, close to the actors’ faces, with tremendous sensitivity for their process—he captured their performance in a raw and nuanced way, which is thrilling because they could never relax. At any moment, he could suddenly turn his camera on a different character…”

A group of friends throwing a hurricane party also opened up the possibility of different and unusual light sources during the power outage. “After twenty minutes, the lights go out, and
we had to find ways to visualize this in an exciting way so the audience could see what was going on in the story,” says Wolf.

“I experimented with colored flashlights, LED lights, iPhones, glowsticks, and emergency lights in the McMansion, to differentiate between characters so they could stand out during chaotic action scenes.”

Cameras seldom stopped rolling in these scenes and Reijn encouraged the actors—and Wolf—to improvise as much as possible. “Everybody is talking on top of each other in a lot of scenes, so you really had to be in the flow,” says Sennott, who wore glowsticks for much of the shoot. “I’d never had the luxury of doing so many long and freewheeling takes, and I loved it. It’s challenging to always be so present in the scene and aware that you’re responding to each character in the
right way.”

Adds Wonders: “Halina comes from an intense acting background, so she and Jasper were at home in the darkness and intensity of the shoot. Halina has that acting empathy and shared language and wasn’t afraid to roll around on the ground with us, in the blood, the mud, the water. When everyone on set is covered in sweat and gore, fake blood in our eyes, it’s a different kind of trauma bonding.”

New Shapes

The American composer and musician Richard Vreeland— known as Disasterpeace—created Bodies Bodies Bodies’ pulsating score, commenting on the characters’ complex and messy digital lives as experienced through iPhones and social media apps like TikTok. “This notion of ‘signal loss’ is a key component to the music, and many sonic elements have been intentionally downgraded to sound like low-quality mp3s,” says Vreeland.

The score is meant to be simplistic, energetic, and detached: a mediation on the characters.

Vreeland’s previous film work included David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, which employed synthesizers to create a menacing and dystopian vibe redolent of John Carpenter’s films. But
Vreeland shied away from conventional scoring on his latest film. “We tried to subvert expectations tied to ‘horror’ scores by taking into account the story’s comedic aspect, which
became my favorite part of the movie,” says Vreeland. “We definitely wanted to capture a youthful, emotionally-detached attitude for the film.”

Adds Reijn: “The film is busy with dialogue, characters, horror, and comedy, and the music is meant to help keep up the energy. We wanted music that conveyed darkness, sexiness, absurdity, and a layer of fun and trashiness. We tried to take elements from the characters’ worlds—like the sounds of certain pop songs on TikTok—and morph them into an artistic score.”

Music supervisor Meghan Currier (Waves) assembled a soundtrack that reflected the erratic and often edgy attitudes of the film’s characters. “The script read like Clue meets Lord of the Flies, but on drugs, made for and about Generation Z,” says Currier, whose credits include The French Dispatch, The Irishman, and Joker. “The dialogue was incredibly sharp and delicious—music in its own way—and I became fascinated by how the relationships between characters unravel as paranoia sets in.”

Reijn and Currier exchanged hundreds of songs reflecting the inner state of the characters and the generation at large, working together to shape a soundtrack that felt poppy yet subversive—and very right now. “Bodies bends genres from a story perspective but also musically,” says Currier. “It’s a slasher movie with comedic elements, but it’s also a commentary on generational awareness, how we consume information, how we relate to and communicate with one another, and how we unveil truths about ourselves and our peers. We were interested in artists who became mainstream because of their viral success on social media.”

One such artist is 29-year-old pop superstar Charli XCX, who posted early tracks on MySpace before achieving global superstardom and amassing four million Instagram followers with her very personal blend of club bangers, hyperpop anthems, and homegrown radio hits. Building on the success of her recent album “Crash,” the multi-talented performer contributes the new track “Hot Girl.” Concludes Currier, “Charli XCX instantly turned around a song that was completely in sync with the film but remained true to herself as an artist.”

Have you seen Bodies Bodies Bodies? What did you think? Let me know in the comments or on social.

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