Back in my day, we called the game Mafia. But that day has passed, and so the murder-mystery party game now goes by Bodies Bodies Bodies—or at least it does in the new film Bodies Bodies Bodies (in limited release August 5, nationwide on August 12). Directed by Halina Reijn and written by Sarah DeLappe, the film is firmly rooted in the vernacular of today’s post-adolescents, 20-somethings who yammer on about podcasts and dilettantish social justice concerns and Tumblr psychobabble. They also, in the film, start murdering one another as tensions and suspicions mount in a sprawling mansion during a hurricane.
It’s a fun, classic setup for a film, all spooky hallways and howling wind. As often happens in stories like these, an outsider finds herself tossed into a fraught social environment full of festering resentments. She’s Bee (Maria Bakalova), the new girlfriend of rich, newly sober Sophie (Amandla Stenberg), a free spirit making something of a surprise appearance at a small gathering with old friends. (I think they’re high school chums? But maybe they met in college.) Sophie’s been estranged from the group, though she is still technically best friends with David (Pete Davidson), whose parents own the isolated house where everyone’s gathered to party a weekend away.
David’s girlfriend, Emma (Chase Sui Wonders), isn’t very happy to see Sophie; neither are friends Alice (Rachel Sennott) and Jordan (Myha’la Herrold). Alice’s new boyfriend, elder hunk Greg (Lee Pace), doesn’t seem to care much either way. It’s an awkward situation, one Sophie should probably have warned Bee about. This early stretch of the film, as characters are introduced and the landscape is laid out and Bee tries to get her bearings, is sharply done, keenly observant of the particular vibrations of an uncomfortable moment. The performances are loose, creating a sense of extemporaneous ramble.
Eventually, though, some real plot has to start moving. Someone winds up dead during a round of the titular game, and everyone becomes a suspect. The distrust these young women have for one another—caused by slights, betrayals, furtive and unrequited crushes—become manifest in the form of accusation: You’ve always been a jealous psycho, you’ve always been a freak, and so on. And then, of course, there’s Bee the shifty outsider; when the gang is tired of pointing fingers at one another, they turn toward the foreign entity.
As this process unfolds, Reijn and DeLappe manage some moments of shivery suspense. Reijn makes expressive use of the house, tearing up staircases and down shadowy corridors with giddy abandon. But narratively, the film grows awfully repetitive, some version of the same argument taking place in one dark room after another. The bodies start piling up (as promised by the title) but still things feel static, as if the movie is spinning its wheels in the mud. With actors this good—Sennott is a particular standout as an insecure brat—it would be hard for the movie to be truly boring. But Bodies loses momentum as it goes, suggesting that maybe the idea was never properly developed beyond its premise phase.