In Defense of Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
The English-language debut of director Halina Reijn has already been widely revered, but there appears to be a large portion of both critics and audiences who don’t appreciate the carefully-crafted ingenuity of A24’s latest slasher flick. Some reviewers have actually gone as far as to relegate the movie to a mere “95-minute advertisement for cleavage.” Such comments have (rightly so) received pushback from Amandla Stenberg, who played one of the leading roles in Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022) with great range and commitment. The disrespect and sexism the film’s actors have faced is a real shame because, to quote Stenberg, “maybe if you had gotten your eyes off my tits you could’ve watched the movie,” and if they did, these critics certainly wouldn’t have been disappointed. Reijn’s modernized whodunnit toys with viewer expectations, ultimately giving us a searing critique of class, bourgeois society and the false sense of community brought by the digital age.
Centered around a group of social media influencers stuck in a mansion with a serial killer on the loose—unable to escape due to the hurricane raging outside—the plot’s premise seems like something right out of the golden-age of slasher films, but with a contemporary twist that makes all the difference. This ‘online’ aspect of the movie adds so much. When I first saw the trailer and how it seemed to mock words like ‘triggered’ or ‘toxic,’ along with the poster making a joke about safe spaces, my first impression was that this movie would be pretty regressive, a typical rant against the younger generation and their Twitter-induced victim complex; but I’m happy to say this was actually not the case. Instead, the film uses these popularized terms to highlight how a shallow framing of serious issues leaves people unable to think critically, resulting in them merely regurgitating the latest buzzword, creating a culture where everyone is paranoid, constantly accusing one another of guilt while reveling in their own supposed innocence. This is visible when the first body is found, and the group gangs up on Alice’s boyfriend, Greg, certain he’s the killer, going as far as to murder him when he tries to defend himself. The film’s twist ending also communicates this point with a dark humor that’s used effectively throughout its runtime, which speaks to how well-written it is, surprisingly. At least three different writers touched this script at various points of the production process, but it feels cohesive, brought even more to life by smartly-crafted visuals.
The film’s intensely stylized aesthetic further accentuates its thematic interests. Cinematographer Jasper Wolf made sure the camera never stopped moving, to the point where it was almost dizzying. This nonstop movement is matched by a frenetic pace set by quick cuts, along with harsh practical lighting (sometimes only using a cellphone flashlight in an otherwise pitch-black room). These (purposefully) less-than-polished images deepen our sense of chaos and uncertainty, heightening viewers’ paranoia in a way that would make Harmony Korine’s filmography proud. I usually avoid comparisons, but I think Spring Breakers (2013) is relevant because the few negative reviews I’ve seen of Bodies Bodies Bodies seem to be giving it the same treatment, with many simply refusing to take it seriously despite the obviously-carefully-crafted nature of the film's visuals, acting, score etc.; maybe because it’s not a traditional, austere take on the whodunnit like Knives Out (2019) or the upcoming Clue, maybe it’s the borderline-crudeness and use of dark comedy, who knows. Either way, this is one of the reasons I started this blog: to show that all cinema is worth thinking deeply about. There is room for both Knives Out and Bodies Bodies Bodies; in fact, they enhance one another, ultimately showing that the borders between high and low art are arbitrary and silly. Regardless of whether or not one appreciates the aesthetic behind the film, it can’t be denied that everything is purposeful and, in its own way, effective. If you somehow haven’t yet, go watch it in theaters!
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