Bodies Bodies Bodies and the Horror of Living Extremely Online
The cast and director of Bodies Bodies Bodies talk about the new A24 horror movie, and growing up in the “wild wild west of social media.”
The cast of Bodies Bodies Bodies was encouraged to play “the game” on one of their first nights together. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is technically a fictional activity—an intentionally potent blend of all those toxic college drinking games you might’ve played back in the day (or still do). In the new film, they’ve been distilled into a veritable car wreck of bad decisions. In other words, “the game” is the perfect setting for an A24 horror-comedy. It also proved to be a hell of an icebreaker for the young Gen-Z actors who would soon be asked to embody the worst case scenario of such a festivity occurring on a dark and stormy night.
“The fun of the game is bullying your friends,” actor Chase Sui Wonders says with a faint smile now. “It’s really masochistic and becomes just inherently dark, because you’re supposed to have fun yelling and accusing your friends of false crimes that are not real.”
Indeed, in the film, “Bodies Bodies Bodies” consists of two phases: the first begins with slapping your friend to the right as hard as you can because why not? It then concludes with each player drawing a card which says whether they’re an innocent victim… or the killer. The lights then go out and the killer must find and tap someone on the shoulder to commit their foulest of deeds. The second round? The lights come on and everyone tries to deduce which player is the killer (or throw off the scent by blaming an innocent person in the most mean-spirited and personal of ways).
“I think the psychological warfare that you have to engage in to do that game is so fun,” says star Myha’la Herrold. “Like especially if you’re a secret manipulator, which Amandla [Stenberg] is laughing about now because apparently I am!”
It’s a great way to break the ice as young Gen-Z actors. And it’s also a great way for old friends to pick at decade-long wounds, although as Bodies Bodies Bodies reveals, there are drawbacks to that too… such as what happens when one of your friends actually ends up dead when the lights come back on and everyone is ready to blame someone. Anyone.
The movie can be described as a highly allegorical satire of the modern Gen-Z experience where affected sophistication crumbles in an offline scenario—such as stumbling into a whodunit-cum-slasher movie. Which is to say it definitely has the hallmarks of an A24 genre picture, hence why the indie tastemaker picked this one up at the ground floor. The original screenplay is the debut script by author Kristen Roupenian, who received national acclaim after her short story “Cat Person” debuted in The New Yorker in 2017.
With a story that tapped into youth culture’s current anxieties about unhealthy friendships, bad dating habits, and otherwise how we relate to one another, Bodies Bodies Bodies was always intended to turn the Agatha Christie murder mystery conceit on its head by presenting a cast of suspects who instead of knowing nothing about each other, know everything—and use that as a weapon.
Part of the reason that weapon is so devastatingly funny and vicious though is due to longtime Dutch stage actress-turned-director Halina Reijn. The helmer brings an acute sensibility to the project, as well as playwright friend Sarah DeLappe who rewrote the script with an intense focus on what can be described as the deadliest weapon in both the world theater and on social media: the choice of words.
“Language can be used to totally destroy each other,” says Reijn when she joins her leading ladies inside the Den of Geek studio at San Diego Comic-Con. “We often forget, especially in the time of social media, but words do have power. It feels like they don’t because we can just tweet and [throw] everything into the world, but they do hit somebody, somewhere.”
In Reijn’s mind that proves doubly true for young people today whose use of words she describes as having the potential to be both “primal” and “sensuous.” To the filmmaker, this current culture represents the beast in ourselves. Reijn also credits her cast for adding to what’s on the page. Says the director, “They brought their own ideas to the script, and that’s very important for us. I’m 46. What do I know about young people? So I was very curious about what they had to bring to the table.”
If you’ve seen the Bodies Bodies Bodies trailer, you already have a taste at the most ironic use of weaponized terms during a scathing montage: “You’re always gaslighting me,” one young woman says; “you fucking trigger me,” insists another; “you’re silencing me!” accuses yet one more.
The joke, of course, is that we’re watching a group of mostly privileged and wealthy young women descend into a lord of the flies situation where they lack the vocabulary for what is to come. However, there is a truthful authenticity to these characters and their fractured relationships, which all of the cast tells Den of Geek was so refreshing to read on the page.
“The first thing I noticed about this script was the language and how accurate it felt,” says Amandla Stenberg, the rising star of films like The Hate U Give and The Hunger Games (and who also spoke with us about starring in Star Wars’ upcoming The Acolyte series). “A lot of the jokes felt like inside jokes between myself and my peers, or my generation. This is a satire, but these are flawed people and that’s what makes them hilarious. They kind of embody the worst qualities of living in this super media-saturated age. So we wanted to speak to how scary it is to be living in this wild wild west of media.”
Herrold agrees. “I think what makes the depiction of our generation so acute is the attention to detail in the language and how they use it, because it’s really easy to make any Gen-Z character be like ‘on fleek!’ and not make it very purposeful. But what this script does, what our writer Sarah DeLappe does, what Halina’s done is make it really pointed and intentional. Like the way they use really big buzz words… we talk around the thing without saying anything.”
If there is perhaps one point-of-view character for audiences to latch onto in this world it’s Bee, who is played by Maria Bakalova fresh off earning an Oscar nomination for Borat 2. Like the audience, Bakalova’s character is thrown into the deep end as she experiences these young women who claim to be lifelong friends since childhood—and yet clearly have barely hidden grudges. Additionally, much like her performer, Bee is a foreigner who is forced to try and deduce the customs of this clearly wealthier, tight-knit group whose idea of fun during a hurricane is doing drugs and exacting psychological carnage on each other. Worse still, as the new girlfriend of the group’s former erstwhile leader Sophie (Stenberg), Bee finds herself as an object of suspicion and ridicule even before folks start dropping like flies.
This context gave Bakalova a lot to play with.
“I did feel this way because I’m coming from a different country, and Halina’s coming from a different country, so we kind of naturally have this feeling of being outsiders,” Bakalova says. “So having Bee be the most honest perception of each of these people because she just meets them for the first time, and they’re all weird and wild—she tries to fit in there, and she becomes weird as well because she’s not her authentic self.”
There’s an irony for such an authentic film about the Gen-Z experience not featuring anyone being terribly truthful with their friends. But then, as Chase Sui Wonders notes, “At a certain point, you realize [you’re friends with somebody] because we’re in the same kind of class or random geographical region, and we’re not actually bound by an authentic connection.”
The movie is a heightened, bloodier version of that epiphany. Well that plus, as per Wonders, “There’s so much pleasure for all of us to play these villains who are so delicious and fun despite being evil and tortured and toxic.”
The cast’s director sees it a little more sympathetically.
Says Reijn, “I think we all have the feeling sometimes that we’re imposters or aliens, and I think the movie is very much about our primal need to be loved. Of course Maria’s character represents that, but all of them do. In the end, they seem so seductive and beautiful and fast, and they’re intellectual bullies, but they’re all lonely… and we’re all lonely and we all feel like aliens.”
Which is perhaps why booze, pills, and a game that encourages mob mentality might not be the healthiest cocktail—even when played in jest, it can reveal interesting things.
Going back to those early days when the cast got to know each other and played the game themselves, Shiva Baby’s Rachel Sennott laughs now, with perhaps still a small bit of horror, that “everyone kept saying I was the killer, and I was never the killer! I actually started to feel hurt because I wasn’t.”
Herrold concedes, “Maria was the killer the whole time and she didn’t say a word! She didn’t say a single word, and I was like, “Rachel, look at her face, look at her lips! Now she’s crying? She’s the killer!’ [And Maria] is dead silent the whole time.”
Perhaps they should’ve played Clue?
Bodies Bodies Bodies is in theaters Friday, Aug. 5.