Rachel Sennott, Myha'la Herrold, Maria Bakalova, and Amandla Stenberg in Bodies Bodies Bodies

Interestingly, in a weekend that saw the arrival of precisely zero new major-studio movies, the three local releases we did get all featured significant characters who earned a living through their podcasts, YouTube channels, and/or Instagram accounts. (The recent Vengeance found a producer played by Issa Rae saying, “Not every white guy in America needs to have a podcast,” but according to our latest spate of debuts, apparently every white gal in America does.) Once upon a time, on-screen professionals focused on careers in advertising and architecture. Now they're only focused on themselves. Eh, it's 2022. Guess that makes sense.


Any horror fan will tell you that a lousy ending can totally ruin an otherwise terrific film. (I suppose you could say the same about lousy endings to films in any genre.) But can a fantastic ending completely redeem an otherwise underwhelming fright flick? In the case of director Halina Reijn's Bodies Bodies Bodies, I'm tempted to say yes. For most of its 95 minutes, I found Reijn's and screenwriter Sara DeLappe's gory satire disappointingly void of excitement and too clever by half; in one particularly noxious scene that self-consciously dropped about 20 Gen Z buzzwords (“toxic,” “canceled,” “ableist”) in the span of about 20 seconds, I wanted nothing more than to slap the smug, knowing smile off the movie's face. Still, the journey was intriguing and well-acted enough that I continually held hope for improvement – and boy did I get it, even if that meant waiting until two minutes before the closing credits. Suddenly, a release I had no interest in seeing again became one I wanted to revisit as soon as possible.

Taking as its inspiration the titular party game also known as Mafia and (as the oldest character here calls it) Werewolf, Bodies Bodies Bodies plants a half-dozen 20-somethings and one 40-something in a sprawling mansion for a “hurricane party” – a booze-, weed-, and coke-laden night of debauchery enjoyed while they wait for the impending storm to knock the power out. Despite the surface bonhomie, tensions are clearly high even before the frenemies play their game of “identity the killer”: between newly sober Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and the other guests, who didn't know she was coming; between antsy David (Pete Davidson) and middle-aged hottie Greg (Lee Pace), the former incensed by the latter's effortless cool; between Jordan (Myha'la Herrold), who's carrying a torch for Sophie, and Bee (Maria Bakalova), who's Sophie's new wallflower girlfriend. Suffice it to see that when a legitimate bloody death occurs in the midst of game play, everyone's already-frayed nerves snap, leading to immediate distrust, ugly revelations, and, per the title, an escalating series of corpses.

Pete Davidson in Bodies Bodies Bodies

I've always been an admirer of these sorts of self-contained, And Then There Were None-esque mystery thrillers, and Reijn's minimally populated entertainment – the entirety of its housebound suspects/victims/potential killers completed by Chase Sui Wonders and, as the obligatory social-media baroness, Rachel Sennott – is initially quite promising. Although, with the exceptions of Bee and Greg, the young partiers are boorishly privileged in that familiar Euphoria manner, they're enjoyably loathsome company nonetheless, and DeLappe gives the performers a fair amount of sharp dialogue. (Early on, Davidson delivers an especially rewarding tirade against the misappropriation of the term “gaslighting.”) But despite Stenberg's considerable acting chops, Pace's laid-back charisma, and the delicate sweetness and sadness of Bakalova in her first role since her Oscar-nominated Borat Subsequent Moviefilm breakout, the cast isn't quite able to make up for what Bodies lacks and what every horror comedy, by definition, pretty much needs: scares and laughs.

Admittedly, it's kind of novel to view a splatter flick in which we're witness to so little splattering. This is partly a matter of necessity: If we actually see the killings take place, we'll (theoretically) know who the killer is, right? But the darkness and Reijn's staging choices mask the violence further, and it turns out there's not much fright or electricity to be had in dead bodies just, you know, laying there. Consequently, the tension has to come from the characters' mutual fear of one another, and this is where Bodies most strenuously falls apart. Instead of the air filling with apprehension and dread, it's filled with shrill, shrieking accusations and recriminations – appropriate responses, perhaps, for youths coked out of their minds, but intensely tiresome ones when repeated for close to an hour. And although her narrative is solidly constructed, the strident bitchiness is also where DeLappe's script falters. We can't help but be made aware of the staggering egocentrism behind everyone's finger-pointing, and the loud, teary harangues are neither pointed nor funny enough to make a distinct impression. Particularly in that aforementioned, buzzword-packed sequence, it's clear that Gen Z-ers are being lampooned for their self-obsession and selfie-fueled navel-gazing. Merely recognizing the vocabulary employed to mock these characters, though, doesn't necessarily make that mockery amusing.

Yet if you find yourself similarly frustrated with Bodies Bodies Bodies by what you feel is its point of no return, I urge you to stick with Reijn's film through its conclusion, which provides the happy satisfaction that works of this type so seldom do. Not only is the narrative wrapped up in an inventive, even inspired way, but we're also given a lovely moment of detente amidst the cruelty; the answer to a question we'd long forgotten about; a satirical swipe more biting than any previously offered; and one of the best movie-capping punchlines of the year delivered with the straightest of faces. I believe that noted reviewer Borat Sagdiyev had a singular compliment for the sort of delight we ultimately receive: “Very ni-i-i-ice!”

Virginia Gardner in Fall


A big-screen nightmare for acrophobes of all stripes, writer/director Scott Mann's Fall sends its two co-stars 2,000 feet above the California desert and leaves them there. Its reasons for doing so, however, are a little dubious.

Trying to cheer up her suicidally morose bestie Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) a year after the extreme climber's husband plummeted to his death, Instagram-ing adventurer Hunter (Virginia Gardner) convinces the young woman to get back on the horse – the “horse,” in this case, being an abandoned TV tower from which Becky can finally scatter her spouse's ashes. You'd think, I dunno, scaling a simple rock wall at her local gym might be enough for someone who watched her beloved take a fatal tumble off a mountain. But Becky reluctantly agrees to Hunter's plan, and armed with a minimally stocked backpack, a drone (for live-streaming!), and Hunter's powerful sports bra, up they go. The rusty, shaky ladder they ascend suggests that this may not have been the wisest of ideas. The vultures that circle the women after they reach the top and the ladder collapses suggest that, too.

Grace Caroline Currey in Fall

As someone with a lifelong fear of excessive heights, one of the more squeam-inducing movies I've survived is The Walk, Robert Zemeckis' 2015 feature about the literal French clown, Philippe Petit, who traversed a tightrope between Manhattan's Twin Towers in 1974. (Petit's insane exploits were also the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire.) Mann's film, I'm both relieved and somewhat disheartened to say, isn't nearly that upsetting. The one-named cinematographer MacGregor provides a number of dizzying aerial shots alongside only a few evident green-screen effects, and the vertigo-inclined among us may need to retrieve our bearings every once in a while by staring at the floor or the auditorium's exit sign – anywhere but that view from 2,000 feet above ground. Yet while we're filled with anxiety and dread as Becky and Hunter make their way up the tower, once they're stuck without their ladder (and with their backpack and drone a good 200 feet below their perch), there really isn't much that can happen. Given that the characters' crisis hits when Fall is only a half-hour old, you wonder where this material can possibly go, and the answer, sadly, proves to be: nowhere terribly interesting.

That's not to say there aren't exciting moments. The women's attempts to shimmy down the ladder-less construct using only a thin length of rope have some edge, and if enough viewers saw this film, vultures could have replaced unidentified overseas fighter pilots and Colonel Tom Parker as the movie summer's villains of choice. But too much of Mann's and co-screenwriter Jonathan Frank's narrative is devoted to tired soap-opera clichés, predictable character reveals, and extraneous throwaway bits that you know in your gut will eventually prove Meaningful, and although their physical work is impressive, neither lead appears to be a strong-enough actor to make the less-perilous encounters land. (The film's one truly gifted performer, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, basically has an extended cameo.) Still, if you're desperate for 107 minutes in an air-conditioned environment – even if 107 minutes is wa-a-ay too long for this tale's needs – Mann's mini-chiller may work for you. It may not offer the highs typical to a blockbuster-heavy summer, but its moderate fun feels right for Fall.

Diane Keaton in Mack & Rita


From its poster to its setup to its promise of star Diane Keaton yet again tripping into a swimming pool, everything about director Katie Aselton's body-swap comedy Mack & Rita screamed “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here!” But while I was actively dreading the experience, I had forgotten that seemingly hopeless works of this type occasionally deliver major surprises, and this lightweight trifle's biggest shock may be that it's in no way terrible. Like the vultures in Fall, terrible is certainly circling all the time: It's there in the Big-ish plot that magically transforms a 30-year-old influencer (Elizabeth Lail's Mack) into a white-haired lady at least twice her age; in the ludicrous contrivance of this other, older Mack – quickly renamed Rita – becoming a national media celebrity; in Keaton's shrieking apoplexy and attempts to wring laughs from her shaky navigation of high heels. But as much as I wanted to, I couldn't hate the film. How can you hate a movie that you're reasonably sure will be your mother's new favorite movie of all time?

In truth, if you can access and accept your own inner Lady of a Certain Age, there's no reason you can't have fun regardless of years and gender. Paul Welsh's and Madeline Walter's script, as perhaps doesn't need to be said, is beyond dopey, with Mack's best friend (Taylour Paige) buying the supernatural goings-on in record time, Dustin Milligan on hand as a dog-sitter with a convenient eye for much-older women, and Simon Rex awkwardly cast as the living embodiment of a Zoltar machine. But even though Aselton's cheesy outing feels kind of like every mid-to-late-'80s comedy whose title you politely scoot past during a streaming browse, most of Mack & Rita's performers, I gotta say, are wonderful.

Lois Smith and Diane Keaton in Mack & Rita

Flighty eccentricities notwithstanding, Lail isn't adequately believable as someone who could one day morph into Diane Keaton. (Among young actors today, who would be?) But she's still game and endearing, Paige delivers an unexpectedly serious-minded portrayal without skimping on sardonic laughs, and the charming Milligan is ideally suited for this nonsense, his scenes with Keaton demonstrating a winning improvisational streak he never displayed during his Schitt's Creek tenure as veterinarian Ted. We're also treated to a riotous Patti Harrison as Mack's snarky agent; Aimee Carrero and Addie Weyrich, hysterical as terminally unaware Gen Z-ers; the priceless brigade of Loretta Devine, Wendie Malick, Amy Hill, and the 91-year-old dynamo Lois Smith as members of an apparently 24/7/365 wine club; Martin Short as the voice of Mack's puppy Cheese … . (Yes. Mack and Cheese. It's that type of movie.)

And of course, we have Diane Keaton, with all the exquisite pain and pleasure that casting implies. Every so often, as when Rita hit vocal timbres of faux horror that only dogs could hear, I wanted to cower, and while the star's devoted will no doubt think otherwise, the costuming appears to be in a constant competition with itself over which of Keaton's wardrobe selections will prove the most ghastly. (At one point, Rita lovingly eyeballs, and eventually dons, a gleaming white suit with matching hat that is, hands down, the Diane Keaton-iest Diane Keaton outfit I've ever laid eyes on.) But damn it all … she's Diane Keaton, looking as spectacular as any 76-year-old has ever looked (and easily passing as 60-ish Rita), breaking up her sentences with seemingly spontaneous giggles and unexpected veers into pathos, and bringing out the absolute finest in her co-stars. Paige and Milligan, in particular, look not only energized and eager but grateful to be in her presence. As well they should be. Mack & Rita may be a long, long way down from the career high of Annie Hall. But if I was 76 and pulling off demanding slapstick involving a Pilates machine with this much enthusiasm and aplomb, I wouldn't want another Oscar. In my honor, I'd demand a full-size statue.

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