Bodies Bodies Bodies: a cutting dissection of Gen Z

Halina Reijn’s satirical slasher gleefully skewers its young adult characters’ vanity, viciousness and vapidity.

Pete Davidson as David in Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)

In the slasher subgenre, it is the younger generation and their particular anxieties that tend to be put under the knife. The main characters are typically high-school pupils or university co-eds, cut off in their prime while on the threshold of adulthood, or else surviving their youth both triumphant and traumatised. The subgenre may be most associated with the ’70s and especially the ’80s – spearheaded by pioneering entries like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974), John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980) and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – but it has continued to renew itself in successive (and successively different) generations, chronicling, over the decades, the changes in adolescent or young adult culture and mores. Wes Craven’s Scream (1995), for example, examined a video generation of teens reared on endless rewatches of Halloween who are self-consciously savvy about the rules of the genre being reinvented around them; it helped set the postmodern tone for the next lustrum of horror. A decade and a half later, Joseph Kahn’s Detention (2011) showed ’90s-worshipping late millennials trying to piece back together their identities from the super-fast flotsam and jetsam of a post-postmodern information age. And now, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s ‘requel’ Scream (2022) follows the children of the original Scream films’ characters as they attempt variously to escape or recreate their parents’ legacy in a new generation, while Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies, though less reductively self-reflexive about the subgenre and its place in modern horror than the latest Scream, offers a far more incisive dissection of Gen Z.

Bodies Bodies Bodies opens, in fact, with just two bodies: Bee (Maria Bakalova) and Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) are locked in a tongue-swirling, lip-biting kiss, surrounded by trees, birdsong and other signs of a world unplugged. Yet if this seems a moment of arresting intimacy and close connection, the effect is immediately undermined by a cut to the same pair in an SUV, deeply absorbed in their respective smartphones. Sophie is bringing her new girlfriend to meet her old friends in an opulent mansion in the middle of nowhere. This is a toxic environment, not just because Sophie, fresh out of rehab, is now surrounded by copious quantities of booze and coke and edibles and Xanax, but also for the tangled, often fraught history she shares with affluent, obnoxious David (Pete Davidson), scatty Alice (Rachel Sennott), approval-seeking actress Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) and class-conscious Jordan (Myha’la Herrold). Another friend, Max, has gone mysteriously AWOL, and Bee and ‘vet’ Greg (Lee Pace, playing a distinctly older character than the other six), as the only outsiders to this established group, find themselves having to catch up quickly with its destructive dynamics.

Focusing on working-class Bee as she struggles first to find her place in this dysfunctional coterie and then to survive the night, Reijn’s second feature (following Instinct, 2019) plays out as both parlour game and murder mystery. For the seven housemates decide to play ‘Bodies bodies bodies’, a variant on ‘Murder in the dark’ that always brings tensions and trust issues bubbling to the surface – but as a hurricane raging outside brings the lights and Wi-Fi down, and as one of their number turns up very literally dead with a bloody slash to the throat, the rest find this game brought to life, with a killer – or killers – in their midst, treachery at every turn, and the cadavers quickly piling high. Stripped of the group chats and podcasts, the Twitter and TikTok that define them, these young people are confronted with their unmediated selves, and no one will come out looking pretty.

“It’s okay to feel nervous,” Sophie tells Bee. “That’s part of the fun.” Sure enough, for all the paranoia-inducing tensions, brutal recriminations and bloody body count of Bodies Bodies Bodies, it is also very funny, nailing with every perfectly pitched line of dialogue these characters’ vanity, viciousness and vapidity. Here it takes a solitary death to bring out the very worst in this already intoxicated, aggressive circle, and as their lies, betrayals and impostures are revealed one by one, these so-called BFFs will be surprisingly quick to tear each other apart. As a whodunnit, it will certainly keep viewers guessing – and perhaps even questioning where the boundaries of the slasher lie – but it also entertainingly skewers these Zoomers’ disconnection from both truth and reality itself.

► Bodies Bodies Bodies is in UK cinemas now.