Horror movies, and to a similar extent thrillers, have always been a reflection of modern-day societal fears and anxieties. In the ’70s, some movies took on the mistrust of government institutions (All The Presidents Men, The Parallax View, Three Days Of The Condor). Some were broadly about private and governmental surveillance (The Conversation), while others dealt with the widening class divide and the inherent mistrust therein (Straw Dogs, Deliverance, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.)
In the ’80s, contemporary horror movies and thrillers reflected the Reagan-led height of the cold war, the disastrous war on drugs, and the burgeoning Satanic Panic. Movies like Dawn Of The Dead were not-so-subtle critiques of modern-day consumerism, with the peak of mammoth malls being in the 1980s. War Games, The Day After, and The Hunt for Red October were all movies that dealt with the looming threat of nuclear proliferation.
Cutting to 2022, one common thread throughout all these movies, the topics explored within them, and throughout the decades is paranoia, which is the constant background noise thrumming throughout Halina Reijn’s and A24’s newest film Bodies Bodies Bodies. The movie takes place in a secluded McMansion, where five twenty-something women are spending the night drinking, doing copious drugs, and playing a modern, boardgame-less version of Clue called Bodies Bodies Bodies. It’s essentially a who-dun-it like Werewolves or Mafia where everyone closes their eyes, one person is secretly and randomly chosen to be the killer, and the rest of the group is killed off one by one until either the murderer is revealed or they get away with it.
The first sign of conflict rears its head when it’s clear that David, played adequately by SNL alum Pete Davidson, and his girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) are not happy that Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and her girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova) are there. It’s revealed later that Bee was spiraling out of control on drugs and alcohol and had just recently gotten out of rehab. During a partially heated discussion later in the film, Bee’s addiction is brought up antagonistically, with another character responding, “Stop attacking her addiction, that’s ableist.”
That kind of modern, Gen-Z language is sprinkled throughout the film, with each line landing like the joke it’s intended to be but delivered with all the seriousness the actual speaker would give it. Another example is one person trying to monologue at another and finding another putting their hand over her mouth as she screams “You’re silencing me!”. It’s twitter brought to life but played for the deadly seriousness in which it’s intended.
The ridiculousness of the faux outrage displayed online and now bleeding over into real life is shown in stark contrast with how Lee Pace’s Greg interacts with the group of girls. Greg is Alice’s boyfriend, who she met two weeks ago on Tinder. For the majority of the time Greg is with us he is constantly wrong-footed, always the butt of the joke, always one step behind the rest of the group. He’s the only one needing an explanation of the rules of the titular Bodies Bodies Bodies, he gets punched by Dave during the slap game right before asking him if he’s ‘fucking with him’ for asking for an explanation of the phrase ‘the best defense is a good offense.’
I think that’s what’s at the heart of the movie, confusion over whether or not someone is being genuine. From Dave’s perspective, he’s being ironically mean, but does that performative nature mean anything if he’s the only one in on the joke? Does having the language to understand and parse complex human emotions mean anything if we don’t trust one another?
“They’re not as nihilistic as they look on the internet. That’s just, like, what they want you to think,” Sophie says early on to Bee. So then, why appear that way in the first place? Very quickly, being ironically anything (nihilistic, racist, homophobic) very well could lead one to actually being that thing, or attracting a large following of people who actually are that thing.
There’s a lot going on in Bodies Bodies Bodies, and in the end, I think it stuck its landing majestically. (I won’t spoil it here, but I think its entire pathos is summarized wonderfully in the film’s last 30 seconds.) A lot of political commentators will tell us that the powers that be are constantly planning and scheming to keep the poor and the middle-class fighting amongst themselves. Halina Reijn’s movie says that, at a moment’s notice, we will turn on each other without any need for outside interference.