Friday 16 September 2022

Phones out: "Bodies Bodies Bodies"

Every generation gets one of these: only the faces, buzzwords and marketing spends change. Brought to you by boutique studio
du jour A24 - the non-handsy Miramax - Bodies Bodies Bodies is essentially Scream for and with millennials. The setting on this occasion is a well-appointed country house, the kind of bubble that (as was the case for the recent British comedy All My Friends Hate Me) enables production to continue more or less untroubled during pandemic-related shutdowns, and which serves as a usefully roomy location when a storm blows in, trapping your characters in place. We travel there in the company of nervy first-stage lovers Bee and Sophie (Maria Bakalova and Amandla Stenberg), still reeling after an unreciprocated declaration of affections, and quickly meet their contemporaries, some of whom - Rachel Sennott from Shiva Baby, Pete Davidson from SNL and Kim Kardashian - are more familiar than others. Thereafter, there is booze and weed and coke and 'shrooms, a creepy-ish older dude (Lee Pace) who turns out to be the stepfather with whom Davidson's rich jerk is involved in a near-mortal Oedipal struggle, and plenty of vitriol and passive-aggressive backbiting that turns into roughhousing, physical aggression and eventually deadly violence as the lights go off and the drinking games become ever more extreme. If you're over the age of 25, you'll very much know the drill.

The first Scream was a pre-Web 2.0 phenomenon, so the characters talked in old movies, thus underlining how dominant a mass medium the movies had become by the end of the 20th century; the film relied, to some degree, on a shared frame of references. By contrast, the characters in Bodies Bodies Bodies are very much online - right through to the closing moments, they can be observed scrabbling for their smartphones - and they communicate using phrases and memes circulated to the point of parody or meaninglessness on social media ("gaslighting", "toxic", "Max would never"). It's a less than flattering portrait of a generation who rush to judgement, find it hard to separate the real from the virtual, and can't ever quite tell what's a gag and what's serious. (The Internet will do that to you.) That's a new development, but the underlying framework of Halina Reijn's film, adapted by Sarah DeLappe from a story by Kristen Cat Person Roupenian dates at least as far back as 1932's The Old Dark House: spooked people stuck in an unfamiliar property trying to figure out who might be the killer in their midst. I should say that earlier iterations of this set-up possessed far greater charm. It's a bit perverse (if recognisably A24-ish) to cast highly promising young performers as the shrillest representatives of their generation; the movie can't function as the showcase it wants to be, because these kids spend half of it sniping at one another unappealingly, half of it stumbling round interchangeably in the dark. And DeLappe's writing tends to favour callousness over real wit, as in the mix-up over the word "vet" that gets one character offed, and the final twist that confirms everybody on screen as perilously silly sausages. (I'll confess to snickering at Sennott's deployment of the word "literally", and her bit on the stresses involved in podcasting - clear instances of a gifted performer transcending otherwise so-so material.) Scream featured a half-remembered song by a long-forgotten band with the lyric "say a prayer for the youth of America". Twenty-five years on, this far more cynical endeavour concludes the youth of America may now be beyond any and all salvation.

Bodies Bodies Bodies is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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