It was a dark and stormy night. Well it would be, wouldn’t it? What better setting for tricksy horseplay and stylish devilry? Dutch director Halina Reijn treads the line here between black comedy and out-and-out whodunnit thriller in her English language debut, in which a group of wealthy twenty-somethings gather in a massive house to see out a hurricane, get fucked up and play an old parlour game. It doesn’t take long, to the surprise of no one who has clocked the title of the film, for an innocent round of Murder in the Dark to become something more real – and for those bodies to start piling up.
As a piece of punky, bracing and stylish film-making it certainly does the job at first. Reijn cuts the lights early on, and the majority of her movie is lit by torches, phone screens and glowsticks fashioned into necklaces and wristbands, giving everything an edgy, rave-in-a-haunted-house vibe and creating a paranoid and twitchy mood in which intention, motivation and action are believably warped. Rain hammers on the rooftops and against windows, winds roar, darkness deepens and tempers flair. It’s genuinely affecting. The blend of boozy, drugged-up heroism and creeping dread is helped by one of the great alternative scores of the year by Disasterpeace, a tense web of bleeps and glitches that weaves in and out of some superb needle drops – Deligation’s ‘Oh Honey’, Shygirl’s ‘SLIME’, Azalea Banks and Lazy Jay’s classic ‘212’ and an icy, bitchy new song, ‘Hot Girl (Bodies Bodies Bodies)’ from Charlie XCX. It’s to the composer’s credit that often it’s hard to know where the pop bangers end and the score begins.
We come to love and loathe each of the entitled, coke-addled brats in turn as the story moves along, and each of the small, bottled-in cast of seven holds their own, though special mention should go to onscreen couple Maria Bakalova (astounding back in 2020 as Borat’s daughter, Tutar), whose expressive brown eyes can convey so much fear and conflict, and Amandla Stenberg as lead Sophie, who gets to play more layers than her cast-mates and comes out of the piece shining. SNL’s Pete Davidson does what he does best – play the unlikeable hangdog bellend, while Lee Pace steals scenes in a small but agreeably douchebaggy role as a recently acquired boyfriend meeting the group for the first time.
Alas, though the elements are all in place, with armrests gripped and teeth clenched, Reijn doesn’t quite stick the landing, and her film stutters somewhat in its final act, as its satirical elements, so well blended into the action up to this point, bubble to the surface. There’s a clear through-line in Sarah DeLappe’s script (heavily adapted from an earlier draft by author Kristen Roupenian, who’s left with just a story credit here) poking holes in the general perception of Gen-Z as entitled, whiny and shallow … that’s undermined in a lengthy scene where three young women prove themselves to be just that; firing every culture war cliche they can think of at each other: “triggered”, “enabled”, “borderline”, “gaslighting”, “I don’t even like your podcast”, on and on they come, with the audience left unsure as to whether the scene is satirical or to be taken at face value. It’s all a bit on the nose and undoes a lot of the work of the first two acts, an evocative and three-dimensional piece blindsiding you with its own 2-D punchline. It’s a shame.
Not even the best creepy-black-comedy-about-entitled-rich-kids-getting-fucked-up-in-a-posh-house released this year (that’ll be All My Friends Hate Me), Bodies … may come from A24, the same studio that co-produces HBO’s Euphoria, but it lacks that show’s genuine edge and punch. We’re left with a film that is visually and audibly arresting with some nice performances but without the substance it clearly aspires to.