Bodies Bodies Bodies, a murder mystery satire starring Amandla Stenberg and Pete Davidson, has become one of the summer’s coolest movies, and one of its most debated. In a discussion adapted from this week’s Spoiler Special, Slate movie critic Dana Stevens and editorial assistant Nadira Goffe discuss the movie’s barbed satire of Generation Z, the hotness of Lee Pace, and the movie’s genuinely twisty ending. Their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity, and as indicated by the podcast’s title, contains spoilers for Bodies Bodies Bodies.
Dana Stevens: I’m really, really curious for us to talk about the movie that we’re spoiling today, which is Bodies Bodies Bodies. It’s the first American film from a Dutch filmmaker named Halina Reijn, and it is—I guess I would roughly categorize it as kind of an Agatha Christie–style teens in an isolated house slasher movie. Is that a fair setup for the genre of Bodies Bodies Bodies?
Nadira Goffe: I think so, more like a sort of Gen Z murder mystery, who’s killing everyone in the house type of vibe.
Stevens: Right, one of those things where you isolate everybody away from civilization so that you can pit them against each other and decide who the bad guy is. Did this movie work for you?
Goffe: I read a lot of stuff that was really divisive about the movie, actually, some people saying that it was unfair to Gen Z, some people saying that it was right on. I personally really, really enjoyed this movie. I thought that it was fun while also being genuinely scary at certain times, but I also thought that the commentary on Gen Z was really interesting. I think I’m technically a zillennial, so right on the cusp, but I definitely identify with a lot of their tendencies and reactions.
Stevens: A big question is to what extent is this a portrait of a generation, or is this just a portrait of some individual and often very annoying individuals? Maybe we’ll have some good, juicy conversation to come because I really did not like this movie, and then after watching it I went on Rotten Tomatoes and saw that it was at 92 percent. Almost every critic loves it, and I was very curious to see how it’s won over so many people. I don’t think that it is objectively terrible. I just think that by the terms that it sets out for itself, to do some things that are funny—interesting ideas for a horror/comedy movie about this generation,—it doesn’t necessarily execute all those ideas extremely well.
As the movie begins, the very first thing we see is two women making out, and these are going to be more or less our protagonists, although we don’t quite know whether to trust them throughout the movie. They’re played by Amandla Stenberg and Maria Bakalova, and they’re two young women who seem to have just started dating recently and who are madly in love, and they are on their way to a weekend at this very fancy big gated mansion owned by the family of the Pete Davidson character.
Goffe: Sophie and Bee arrive at Pete Davidson’s house. He plays a character named David. The only thing we really know about him is that he’s been Sophie’s best friend for years. He’s dating Emma, who is played by Chase Sui Wonders, and we honestly don’t get much about Emma right off the bat except that she is dating David. Then there’s also Alice, who’s played by Rachel Sennott. She’s a sort of self-obsessed influencer–turned–podcaster, and she’s dating Greg, played by Lee Pace, who is her boyfriend of, at that point, an undisclosed amount of time. He’s much older than everyone else and also very, very attractive, as we all know Lee Pace to be, and that kind of unsettles David a little bit.
Then there’s Jordan, who’s played by Myha’la Herrold. Jordan is the only sort of outlier of the group, one who’s not coupled up with someone else, not dating anyone. Jordan seems a little rough around the edges when we first meet her. It seems like she’s got something she wants to get off her chest but won’t. That’s our cast for this slasher film that will be stuck in the house together.
Stevens: It starts to come out that Sophie seems to be freshly out of rehab, that she has to some extent ghosted her friends and stopped responding to their group text chat, which is why nobody was expecting her at the house party and nobody knows about her new girlfriend who she’s bringing out of the blue. So there’s a little bit of a sense that there’s a vibe that’s already established that the arriving couple is disturbing. Wouldn’t you agree?
Goffe: Oh, 100 percent. There’s a lot of hushed tones and side-eyes, and just general confusion about what she’s doing there and confusion about how to take the fact that she’s there with them.
Stevens: There’s five women, two men, and the two men clearly have this kind of toxic bro energy between the two of them where they’re competing for attention, for kind of alpha primacy. I think this is one of the things that I kept thinking if only that thread had been developed a little bit better and there could have been a little bit more about gendered competition and energy in a later part of the movie.
Goffe: It becomes clear early on that David, played by Pete Davidson, has a complex where he wants to be the male presence. He doesn’t want to feel threatened by other men. It’s alluded to that before we meet everyone there was an altercation between David and a character that we don’t get to meet until the very end named Max. He already had an altercation with one other man, and then there’s another man who enters the house, and it seems that off the bat David wants to discount everything he’s saying. He’s very rude to him. He’s definitely trying to one-up him. He even confronts him physically at a few separate points, and it’s not really stated why or what his history is, but I honestly think we’re just meant to see him as a sort of caricature of just a general asshole, one of those guys who just always has to be “the guy,” and I think it makes sense if we understand that he’s been surrounded by all of these women as his main group of friends for however many years.
Stevens: That is a place, though, that I really feel like the screenwriting falls down. It took me quite a while to figure out who everyone who is not the three biggest stars in the movie was as a character. I had a hard time finding a protagonist in this movie to want to even be the final girl or final guy. I mean, I understand that it’s a social satire, but you still want somebody that you can sort of dig your teeth into in terms of identification and following their story.
Goffe: I get this feeling or overall sense that this is becoming a sort of trend in millennial/Gen Z sort of films, where the moral of the story is just everyone sucks all of the time. I kind of enjoy that, you know? It’s kind of fun to just watch all these characters be messy, but maybe that’s also because this is just what I’m used to in terms of the entertainment that people in my generation seek out and the way we communicate with each other. I do think that Amandla Stenberg, I found her character, Sophie, really interesting, and so I was rooting for her just because I wanted to get to the bottom of what her deal was. But I would agree with you that there wasn’t one character that I was really, really hoping would make it out alive.
Stevens: The movie itself treats everyone as expendable, so you start to think of them as expendable too. A kind of wild house party is starting to assemble itself, and their first night together, with some of them already drunk and others getting drunk in the course of the game, they decide to play this murder game called Bodies Bodies Bodies, hence the title.
Goffe: It’s a game where there’s one murderer and a whole bunch of civilians and the whole point of the game is for the murderer to kill people by tapping them on the shoulder or giving them some sort of sign or movement. Each round, the murderer kills someone. The rest of the living people try and figure out who they think the murderer is, and then if they get it right, then the game’s over, and if they don’t, the rounds keep going and the murderer keeps killing people.
Stevens: Right, and so in the first round of this game, the murdered person turns out to be Greg. In the movie’s first of many fake-outs, he takes a really long time to wake up from his fake death, and we, as the viewer, knowing this is going to be a murder movie, think, ah, he must somehow magically be really dead. But as it turns out, he’s just messing with them. He’s still alive, but the game very quickly turns kind of sour and toxic. In fact, I think we only get through one round of the game before actual scary murder stuff starts to happen.
Goffe: The first person that they decide to exile after the death that they suspect for killing Greg is David, partially because of the growing hostility that David has shown Greg this entire time, but also partially because David really shows his true assholery in the way that he treats Emma and the things that he says about her while they’re playing the game. All of the men are gone at this point. Greg, upset by everything that has happened, decides he wants to go upstairs to sleep. David, pissed off that he was “killed” first, walks away somewhere, but then everything goes really, really badly. The power cuts out, as it does during a hurricane, and the girls begin to look around for supplies, and then that’s when they encounter their first real death, which is David, who somehow found his way outside and appears with a slashed throat.
Stevens: I thought oh, this is going to be a really clever series of people being picked off, especially surprising that Pete Davidson, maybe the biggest star in the movie, is the first one to die, Psycho style. I feel like the movie didn’t live up to that promise, really, and was not very scary. In fact, I remember walking home from the movie just thinking that’s it? I’m just a little slightly jittery for half an hour and then I’ve forgotten all about it. I don’t go to horror movies to be jittery. I want to be deeply terrified. But yes, Pete Davidson’s death is scary, and as we’ll get to at the end, it is also maybe the only clever death in the entire movie. But of course, his death throws the house into complete disarray. They can’t get anywhere. They can’t use any of the phones because the reception is out. It turns out the car battery’s dead for the one car that they have at the house, and so after this really frantic and pretty legitimately tense, I think, and frightening scene where they’re running around a dark house with just their phone flashlights trying to figure out why one of their party has suddenly died, we enter into the middle section of the movie where they’ve accepted that they’re trapped in the house. They know that the killer must be one of them unless someone is somehow lurking in the outskirts of the house, and the bodies start to pile up in increasingly inexplicable ways.
Goffe: The second death is Greg, and what happens is the girls find Greg because they suspect him as David’s killer, and in an altercation where it becomes very clear, at least to me, that Greg had absolutely nothing to do with this and was actually just very confused, Bee bashes Greg’s head in with a kettlebell in what is deemed as self-defense, but I don’t know if that would actually hold up in court.
Stevens: I feel like that scene was where the movie started to go south for me a little bit because I didn’t see in Bee’s character, who so far in the movie is really introverted, very unsure of her status among this group of people, that she would be the person who would suddenly get a kettlebell and smash this guy’s head in. She didn’t seem like she was necessarily strong enough to do that. She also seems like one of the smarter ones. There’s some pretty dumb people at this house party, and she seems like someone who has a little more forethought to her decisions than a lot of them. That just seemed like a random character choice to me. Also I really felt for Lee Pace in this scene, and I was sad he was leaving the movie because Lee Pace is fantastic and his character was one of the most differentiated, if only because he was from a different generation and he seemed to have a different sensibility.
Goffe: All of the girls think that he’s a vet, as in a former person in the military, when it turns out that he was actually just a veterinarian. I loved Greg and I love Lee Pace, and I was so sad to see him go so early.
Stevens: I mean, I’m all for the idea that the house quickly becomes this all-woman matriarchy of murder, but without those two characters having a little bit more time to develop their relationships to each other and to the audience, it was just as if they were, I don’t know, dominoes being toppled so that the plot could continue.
Goffe: I do think that to me it seemed like, OK, this is the point where the movie is actually supposed to start ramping up and where these girls are supposed to really start distrusting each other and throwing each other under the bus.
Stevens: Let’s talk about the very first woman to die. We know that something really strange is going on when the third person dies, which is Emma, who was the girlfriend of Pete Davidson’s character.
Goffe: After Greg’s death, the girls are obviously understandably very shaken. Sophie ends up relapsing and finding cocaine, I believe, but then Sophie also finds some other pills, which she hands to Emma. That’s the last time we see Emma, and then, as the girls are running around the house doing all of the different things they’re trying to do, Alice happens upon Emma’s prone dead body.
Stevens: That’s a scary scene too, actually, just the choreography of it, because what happens is Alice is racing around in the dark as all of them are, and just falls full length onto this dead body with wide open eyes, which is pretty freaky and scary and also makes you realize this really is going to be kind of an Agatha Christie scenario where anybody could go at any time. I mean the previous two, there’s been a surprise death and there’s been a death that was a kind of a retaliation or natural reaction to that. But here comes just another completely unexplained death out of the blue.
Goffe: She was found at the bottom of a set of stairs, so it’s very plausible that she could have just fallen down the stairs and her wounds really did look like blunt force trauma. But because of their paranoia and because of everything that they had experienced thus far, they really believed that someone in the house was out to get them all, when in reality it was actually the drugs that Sophie gave Emma that caused her to fall down the stairs.
Stevens: You start to see that all of these deaths are building on each other and the hysteria is kind of creating its own momentum. After Emma, the first woman to die, is taken out by what turns out to be a nonmurder, a simple fall down the stairs, there will only be four women left in the house. Now we have Sophie and Bee, the couple who crashed the party; Jordan, the friend whose motives we don’t really understand, but who seems to have a lot of hostility toward Sophie; and Alice, who I will say is my favorite character in the movie because this social stereotype we’ve been talking about, the kind of entitled, whiny Generation Z person, is beautifully embodied by Rachel Sennott, and she also gets some of the best lines. I guess she is the most overtly dumb person at the party, but who’s completely convinced that she’s not dumb.
I have to say that even as someone who is two generations removed from this generation, I really felt the cutting commentary on her podcast and how pathetic it was seen to be somebody who podcasts. In fact, I was thinking about the fact that in pop culture, podcasting is almost always associated with sort of boring, whiny, Gen Z types. As somebody who makes, in part, my living from podcasting, that kind of hit home.
Goffe: She just absolutely nails it. I think it’s really hard to nail this because I think that Gen Zers, especially of the social media influencer/podcaster type, are just often openly maligned in society. To sort of impart this really earnest, grounded well-meaningness to the character but also to still play her up as a heightened, extremely dumb, extremely self-obsessed character is a really tricky thing to do.
Stevens: She’s kind of lovable in her idiocy. She’s someone who’s memorable. She has her own style. She wears those glow sticks around her neck. In a period of the movie where I was sort of thinking what characteristic is each of these women supposed to have again?, she was someone who always had a kind of a defined character and personality.
Goffe: I think important to note, she’s the one friend out of everyone who no one really has anything bad to say about her, or at least that they’ve been saying behind her back. Besides disliking her podcast, there’s not really any sort of very personal deep lobs at her when they all start tearing each other apart, and I think that that has a lot to say about that sort of type and that character, and what her energy is and how lovable she is despite all of her misgivings.
Stevens: All right, we have two more deaths to get through in this movie and I just want to quickly count down how we lose our last two victims. How do our last two women bite the dust?
Goffe: In all of this confusion after Emma’s death, they start suspecting Bee, so they throw her outside into the hurricane. Then she finds her way back in. While she is outside, she sees that Jordan has a gun. She confronts Jordan, who then begins to argue with all of the girls about all of their previous trauma. Jordan ends up pulling out the gun. She shoots Alice in the leg at first, just because of the argument that they’re having, but then there becomes a wrestle for the gun, and then Alice ends up being shot by the gun. Then a very, very shaken, very fraught Jordan runs through the house with the gun. The remaining girls, Bee and Sophie, try to get it away from her, try to convince her to put it down. She won’t. Bee tackles Jordan on the second floor of the house, and Jordan ends up getting thrown over the second floor banister and falling onto a table full of crushed beer cans and glass, to her death. Then it’s just the two girls that we started with, Sophie and Bee, left in the house.
Stevens: I think it’s also worth noting that Jordan’s last words after she has just crashed through a table full of bottles are that Bee should check Sophie’s texts because according to Jordan she has been cheating on her with Jordan, and that becomes important in the very last moment of the movie.
We’ve now got two final girls. The couple who originally arrived at the house are the only ones to have survived, and after this long, frantic night of racing around a dark house, it’s finally morning, so they can see again, and do you want to explain what happens out by the pool on this last morning with these two bloodstained women?
Goffe: Bee and Sophie are at the pool. Bee is trying to get Sophie’s phone to check the texts that Jordan was mentioning. They wrestle for the phone. As they wrestle in the mud by the pool edge, they end up picking up David’s phone, and once they unlock his phone they see that David’s death was actually due to when he was making a TikTok and was trying to recreate a move that Greg did earlier where he used a sword to pop the cork on a Champagne bottle, and while he was trying to attempt this move that he could not do, he accidentally slit his own throat with said sword. There was never a murderer in the house. No one was out to get anyone ever. It was just all started by David and his one accident, all for a TikTok.
Stevens: Even though in general I wait for this movie to be over, the ending was so satisfyingly mean and so bleak that I think it kind of made it worthwhile. Just the idea that he was trying to narcissistically top the other guy’s Champagne sword trick in a TikTok and that led to this whole chain of murders, I think is a stronger indictment of the generation’s narcissism than almost any of the other scenes trying to make that point.
Goffe: Yeah, I completely agree. I think the thing about Gen Z, from my personal experience, is that we know how to make fun of each other. We know how to laugh at each other because not only does the social media economy require it, but we’ve had to do it because everyone else does it all of the time as well. It was cruel, and I really enjoyed that, even though it’s a little odd for me to say that.