Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits Halina Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies via the commentary.
2022’s cinematic landscape included a handful of gifts for fans of murder mysteries, and while Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion was the highest-profile entry, real ones know that two smaller titles shine even brighter. Confess, Fletch is great fun, and Dutch filmmaker Halina Reijn‘s American debut is equally entertaining in its own subversive way. Bodies Bodies Bodies sees a group of twentysomething friends settle in during a hurricane party with drinks, drugs, and a game, only to see the night descend into chaos, carnage, and friendship faux pas.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Bodies Bodies Bodies.
Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
Commentator: Halina Reijn (director)
1. The opening kiss is among Reijn’s favorite scenes in the film as she wanted to start with something “sensuous and animalistic,” because the whole film is basically asking if we’re civilized or beasts. The kiss originally lasted for several minutes.
2. She’s in her mid 40s and making a film about Gen Z, so she immediately asked her cast for musical playlists of what they liked.
3. The shoot went for twenty-five days, so they wanted to find a house that could deliver all the locations they need. They found it in a large house located an hour outside of New York.
4. “You can’t just sit lazy and eat popcorn,” she says as the film refuses to spoon feed you all the details about character and story. She prefers films that give you just enough and trust audiences to know what’s what. “Your brain needs to sort of work a little bit.”
5. She wanted Pete Davidson for David as soon as she read the script (by Sarah DeLappe). “I think he’s very masculine, but he’s very funny, and he has the confidence and the danger and the darkness to play a guy like this.”
6. The game Bodies Bodies Bodies is basically a riff on Mafia or Werewolf, and she adds that in her home country of Holland is called Moordenaar which means “murderer.” “It’s all about who lies, who’s honest… it’s psychological warfare.”
7. The bit where they hit each other while playing the game appealed to her as it reminded her of growing up in a hippie commune in Holland. These kind of “rituals” interest her within a friend group playing with “pain, fun, and erotic tension.”
8. She and DeLappe share an appreciation for the Anton Chekhov play Platonov which is about a man who seduces everyone else, “and we kind of feel Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) is a female Platonov.”
9. She loves the tense faceoff between David and Greg (Lee Pace) as “I’m a sucker for men and the way they compete with each other. It’s very interesting and weird in a way how they want to be the strongest or whatever.”
10. “On the metaphoric[al] level, having no reception is what the film is also about,” she says, adding that our society is so focused on our phones these days and not looking into each other’s eyes. “It’s a cautionary tale.”
11. The film is composed by Disasterpeace (It Follows, 2014; Under the Silver Lake, 2018), and he gave Reijn what she was looking for with music seemingly inspired by the likes of Run Lola Run (1998).
12. “Now I’m kind of addicted to this genre,” she says, and I’m hoping that means she’ll visit it again soon.
13. The bulk of the lighting during the lights out scenes was accomplished by the actors themselves using flashlights, cell phones, glowstick-necklaces, etc. Cinematographer Jasper Wolf occasionally joined in by holding small flashlight alongside the camera which blended in among the characters’ own lighting tools.
14. Movies she references as hitting the vibe of characters hanging out and talking about dark topics include Reservoir Dogs (1992), Heathers (1988), Kids (1995), and Don’s Plum (2001).
15. Bee’s (Maria Bakalova) tee-shirt with the faces was specially designed for the character to help create a world for her “that was very authentic” and showed how she’s searching for her identity.
16. They initially had cut out the scene at 55:00 where Sophie and Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) kiss, but both actors were disappointed. “This is also the typical moment where a straight girl thinks that’s the way to sort of connect to Sophie’s character, plus its shows Chase’s character getting more and more crazy.”
17. The character of Emma was modeled somewhat on Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
18. Emma’s death — she’s found at the bottom of some stairs with blood on the walls and floor — is loosely based on the incident at the heart of the true-crime documentary, The Staircase (2004-2018). “Now we know there is no killer, I mean, in our film, I’m not talking about The Staircase here.”
19. Reijn wonders if viewers realize that the underwear Bee finds in Sophie’s car belong to Jordan (Myha’la Herrold).
20. Test screenings showed audiences began suspecting Bee’s character, and while Reijn thinks the film shows that shouldn’t be, she loves that viewers are constantly shifting in their suspicions.
21. She understands the public debate about guns, especially in the U.S. where we are so fucked in that regard, but she doesn’t support the idea that they shouldn’t be a part of movies anymore. Art, even comedies “need to reflect what’s going on in society.”
22. Alice’s (Rachel Sennott) death due to the accidental gun discharge — due to characters fighting over it — is an unfortunate reality. “Even if you just Google that, you’ll see that it happens a lot here because the access to guns is easy.”
23. While she frequently did more for productions back in Holland — “I love set dressing myself.” — she’s respectful of the unions in the U.S. and of the various talents and departments. “But I love putting the blood on the actors and literally being very hands on with everything, but I have to restrain myself at times because it can be very annoying for other people.”
24. She acknowledges the general absurdity of the ending as Bee has Sophie at gunpoint and insists on seeing her texts with Jordan, despite the carnage that’s unfolded over the past twelve hours, but she loves the truth of it all. “We’re all obsessed with each other’s phones, each other’s secrets — I’m a very jealous person, I’m a Scorpio.”
25. The final line — “I have reception.” — sums up the film for Reijn. “Reception is more important than anything. If we don’t have reception, we don’t have oxygen, it seems.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“First needle drop!”
“Everything is competition in this film as a reflection of our times.”
“This is not 2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“I love erotic [sic] and sexuality in films.”
“Carice van Houten is my best friend.”
“I think physical movement is just as interesting as language.”
“I love ambiguity.”
“I think there’s still such a taboo on how much sex you’re supposed to have.”
“This is, to me, about mass hysteria, and that is a very easy thing to happen to all of us. You only have to look at history to know that.”
“Even though you’re dealing with life and death, you still just want to eat the Cheetos.”
“The scene was even longer, but how long is it believable to have a discussion about a podcast at the same time that dead bodies are laying all over the place.”
“Who is who, what is what.”
“I wish you guys could talk back to me.”
Final Thoughts on the Bodies Bodies Bodies Commentary
The film remains a fun time, even watching with subtitles and a commentary track playing, as the script is tight, playful, and a smart success. Reijn’s Bodies Bodies Bodies commentary, her first, is a great listen as she breaks down the film’s production with both details and anecdotes. She discusses some of the motivations behind characters and story beats, shares some personal thoughts, and offers up an easy listen.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.