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Bodies Bodies Bodies review – nihilistic Gen Z slasher both thrills and frustrates

Halina Reijn's film updates classic genre tropes with a cast of young narcissists who make for great murder victims but bad company

Though it does fulfil its role as a bloody slasher full of beautiful but vapid victims, Bodies Bodies Bodies ends up having quite a lot more than just flesh on its mind. Here is a film deeply concerned with generational differences, with a lot more to say about modern youth than the general stereotypes – if the original Scream asked how millennials could respond to violence in the postmodern video age, Bodies Bodies Bodies does the same thing for the newer youth of Gen Z.

Director Halina Reijn dives into the ways that the omnipresent “social media psychology” language that was designed to promote empathy has instead built walls around young people’s ability to connect and take accountability for anything, ignoring responsibility under the vague umbrella of “self-care.” It’s an ambitious and clever thematic goal, though one that doesn’t always fit very neatly into the slasher plot that’s built around it, making for an uneven film that is sometimes thrilling but just as frequently insufferable.

The set-up here is as classic as it comes for a murder-mystery. Several wealthy friends, each with their own hang-ups and grudges, arrive at a remote mansion for a party before being trapped there by a vicious storm. Soon enough, one of their number is dead, and violent paranoia descends on the group as they try to catch the killer and survive the night.

What really separates Bodies Bodies Bodies, then, is who exactly makes up this group. Instead of the usual stuffy gentry, it’s a group of women in their early 20s (as well as two older boyfriends, played by Pete Davidson and a scene-stealing Lee Pace), coked to the gills and armed with buzzwords like ‘gaslighting’ and ‘toxic’. Our lead is Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), who arrives to the party late, unannounced, and seemingly unwelcome, dragging her awkward new girlfriend Bee (Borat 2’s Maria Bakalova).

Like everyone else at the party, from the standoffish but practical Jordan (Myha’la Herrold) to excitable airhead Alice (Rachel Sennott), Sophie is hard to warm to. Everyone here appears to hate each other – they can’t even find common cause when they start dying – and their dialogue, full of snarky jabs and moral one-upmanship can feel oppressively irritating. If it were a bit funnier, or had the anarchic energy of, say, Uncut Gems, this wouldn’t be a problem but, of the cast, only Sennott really has the chops to sell it.

When we actually get to the murder stuff, though, things pick up considerably. The pre-existing social tension bleeds nicely into the eventual life-or-death fear, and the scenes where characters are alone in the dark – the storm has killed the power and all phone signal – will have your eyes playing tricks on you where you could swear you just saw someone scuttle by in the background. It can be genuinely thrilling, and it culminates in an ending that some may find anti-climactic, but I thought it really worked in the way it plays with everyone in the group’s worst suspicions of each other and themselves.

While, at its worst, Bodies Bodies Bodies can feel rather like a self-regarding Gen Z thinkpiece, it mostly manages to marry its thematic interests to its action in a satisfying way, even if the moment-to-moment dialogue can be found wanting. Swinging between compassion and nihilism as often as its gratingly performative characters do, it’s an indictment of “those kids today” that doesn’t feel purely “old man yells at cloud’ which, despite its flaws, is a rare achievement.

Bodies Bodies Bodies is released in UK cinemas on September 9.

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