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‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’: Party ’til we drop

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re tagging along with someone and their friend group, but everything suddenly becomes really awkward?

Well, add some murder mystery into the mix and you’ve got “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” This horror-comedy film centers on a group of friends and their romantic partners getting ready to party hard while they wait out a passing storm, but things suddenly go awry.

Even before the bodies start to drop, the tension establishes itself quickly. First, we get the impression that our main characters Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova) weren’t necessarily invited through whispers and uncomfortable glances from other characters. The camera work also contributes to a growing sense of discomfort. Even in simple dialogue scenes, the camera rarely stays still. In a weird way, this added anticipation for me; whenever the camera remained still, I knew the other shoe was about to drop.

Back to the story: Party host David (Pete Davidson) gets heated at a children’s party game and storms off. The other shoe I mentioned earlier? It just dropped and so did the first victim. 

Here, the movie shows off its greatest strength: paranoia. The convenient plot device of the storm creates no way to see clearly, no way to escape and no way to call for help — throwing the cast and audience into a panic. With nowhere to go and nothing to lose, the cast attempts to deduce who the killer is, repeating the events that led to David’s departure. With this, the movie starts a vicious cycle that carries the rest of the film’s events: “We have to find the killer” to “We found the killer” to “The killer is dead” to “But what if they weren’t the killer?” This question is ever-present and feeds into the paranoia of the film. As the audience, the only character we rule out as the killer is Bee. Everyone else, even her girlfriend Sophie, is fair game. 

Every performance made for a memorable and distinct character and gave the movie’s death toll an emotional weight. Bakalova was a clear stand-out, embodying both the loneliness felt by being an outsider in the friend group and the growing distrust Bee felt towards everyone as the night progressed. 

I feel that some horror comedies lose the “comedy” after a while, but this movie kept the jokes coming through most of the movie, whether it be during a confrontation (Rachel Sennott’s portrayal of Alice is particularly notable) or through more physical gags like using a dead person’s face to unlock their phone. 

My only major gripe in the film was that some scenes had interchangeable dialogue. Some lines only serve as exposition; any character could be delivering them and not much would be lost. This, however, is made up for with the performances from the stars, imbuing the characters with a personality that the dialogue lacks.

The killer reveal puts the movie in a whole new light and elevates its recurring themes in a clever way that changes the entire film upon rewatching. “Bodies Bodies Bodies” is a fun horror comedy that completely reinvents itself in its last minutes. 

If you take anything away from this movie, just be glad most parties don’t end up this way.

Title: “Bodies Bodies Bodies”

Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Pete Davidson

Director: Halina Reijn

If you like: “Scream,” “Jennifer’s Body”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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‘Barbarian’ and its missing depths

Editor’s note: This review includes mentions of sexual assault.

“Barbarian” is a genre-twisting horror film preying on the fears of dark basements, “nice guy” strangers and rust-belt neighborhoods. What seems like a simple, entertaining premise quickly transforms into a lurking exploration of a horror found in real life. Unfortunately, its thematic mystery falls apart under its own hypocrisy.

I first need to give credit to writer-director Zach Cregger for the adrenaline rush that is his first horror feature. The constant character reveals and genre-switching works every time in escalating the real tension of the story. The visuals are the impressive highlight, emphasizing how clever each character is — or the lack thereof — in silently creative ways. Some choices the characters make pull genuine laughs out of the audience, while others are jaw-dropping in shock value. This emphasis on surprise is the film’s strongest feature. It does not last the entire runtime, but it keeps you guessing on the edge of your seat.

The story branches itself into three characters that play off different genres to clash against the scares. What starts as a stranger-danger thriller suddenly cuts to a horror-comedy with delicious parallels, before once again cutting to a period horror with 80s-era serial killer stereotypes. Yes, the stereotypes are rampant throughout, but they are oftentimes used to double down on each genre in intriguing ways. Sadly, this switching of genre-play only happens in the first half of the film and disappears before reaching its full potential. Once the story merges into one lane, it leaves a collection of questions to be discarded and the remaining conflict to fizzle out in the end.

Now to where this film truly fails: what the characters stand for. One is a blank victim that exists only to be the “final girl” and the other is a predator that never realizes that his excuses are fantasies. The former is supposed to be the central character, but the camera and theme only seem to care about the latter. This is because “Barbarian” secretly revolves around men in denial for being the monsters we read about in accusations. It’s an intriguing premise that is clouded in execution. The worst part is that this underlying reality of sexual assault gets painted over when the predatory man serves as the comedic relief while the female victim gets no characterization at all.

The hardest scenes to watch are intentional. Much of the male character’s past is hard to watch in his self-excusing negligence and false promises, while his actions show his true nature. The female character, on the other hand, doesn’t have a past. She has no inner conflict, flaw or even a purpose to be involved. She’s just stuck there. The comparisons to Alex Garland’s “Men” (criticized for a male writer’s use of a blank female character for a two-dimensional-anti-male, feminist horror film) are so laughable that it sinks this film into ruin.

“Barbarian” is a fun watch in the beginning that accidentally drops all promises by the halfway point. What is left is its broken theme that wants to speak truths too little too late in the runtime with no explanation as to why. It is too busy prioritizing the schock value of genre clash and horror set pieces to effectively present its actual purpose. There’s not enough time with the isolated characters to flesh out their struggles, and the actual, sub-textual horror behind the scares is left off screen. The film’s cracks in the foundation are invisible yet deep, causing the whole story to crumble under the quickest scrutiny. In the end, the risk of tackling guilty men’s response to sexual assault was too catastrophic in the name drops alone; it needed time to grow and be part of the film’s message, but it had no energy or depth to explore correctly.

‘Barbarian’

Director: Zach Cregger

Starring: Georgina Campbell, Justin Long, Bill Skarsgard

Shamrocks: 2 out of 5

Contact JP Spoonmore at jpspoonmo@nd.edu