ComingSoon spoke to the director of Body Body Body Halina Reijn, about the upcoming dark horror comedy, which will be released in theaters on August 5. Reijn talked about how her acting background helped her direct and why she chose each cast member.
“When a group of rich 20-somethings plan a hurricane party at a remote family mansion, a party game goes awry in this fresh and funny look at backstabbing, fake friends, and a party gone very, very wrong,” reads the film’s synopsis.
Jonathan Sim: Bodies Bodies Bodies is such an original slasher film with a unique vision. What were the qualities of Sarah DeLappe’s script that made you want to direct this film?
Halina Reijn: Well, I didn’t get her script. I got another script where the game was at the heart of it and it was completely different, but I loved the game. I played the game a lot with my friends – we called it Mafia or Werewolf – and then A24 asked me to get involved. And I said, “well, I want to be involved, but I want to do it my way and do it more Wild girls meetings Lord of the Flies”, and I am from the theatre. Then they introduced me to Sarah DeLappe and we started working on the script together. So that’s how the process unfolded.
I thought we both came from the theater as she was a playwright [and] When I was a stage actor, we thought it would be incredibly fun to do a very modern … almost like a Chekhov, Much ado about nothing with the big question: is the beast outside you or inside you? And then make it very modern and also comment on our time and have fun with our problems with the screens and the phones and TikTok and social media and all that.
This is a film where casting is extremely important for each character. What do you think each actor brought to the role that made you want to bring them into the film?
Good with Amandla [Stenberg, who plays Sophie in the film], we really chased her. We really wanted her for Sophie and she’s like that, you know, beautiful, smart. She has all the qualities that Sophie has where everyone thinks they are in love with her. Everyone thinks they are having an affair with her. We thought it would be great if she wanted to play a role like that, also because she had never really filmed a darker, manipulative role … ex-addict, all of it, you know? I thought it would be really interesting for her. And then Mary [Bakalova, who plays Bee in the film]I saw her inside Borate 2 and was just blown away by the force of nature that she is. Then I found out that she also comes from theater and classical training like me, immediately I thought, “yeah! Yeah, let’s get her.”
And then Lee Pace and Pete [Davidson, who plays David], I knew immediately that I wanted Pete for David. He has been used, until now, a bit like a goof and really funny [guy]. But here he’s much darker, and the masculine toxicity of it all, I thought, was an interesting place for him to be in, and he was totally up for it. My style is very similar to … I love to act that is honest and without ego and it’s about the group and their reactions. They were all open to it and really went their long ways. They have to learn every damn word in the script and know it by heart. So I really created the group in a way where I thought they had to be technically super good actors but also be able to improvise like Rachel Sennott [Alice in the film] and Pete does a lot in this movie. They provide these golden moments that we could never just write on the page.
This is not your typical slasher film as it is also a very funny film. Tell me about finding the comedy in this dark situation. Were there any standout improvised moments on set?
We really wanted to do more of a dark comedy than anything else. So Heatherfor example, was a great inspiration for us, but also to see Reservoir Dogs – that kind of humor. We were really looking for that kind of irony. The hardest thing about the whole movie was pulling off that tone, because how can you make something funny but still keep the tension? Because it’s also a bit like a murder mystery, like a modern version of Key. On the page it was already really good. I think Sarah DeLappe is a genius at writing humor on the page and just incredible dialogue. We gave them a lot of space to bring either their own ideas … they would come to me in the morning and say, “can I say that? Can I add this?”
And I love that. I love collaborating with them. And me being so old, 46, making a film about youth culture – I better collaborate with them to make it authentic! But we also had moments of “I look like I’m fucking, that’s the vibe I want out there,” that’s Pete’s line that he improvised. That kind of thing was so incredible. So I’d just say we’d take a shot of this office scene written as is, and then we’d do a shot where I’d give more freedom, or I’d just never say cut and let the camera roll. At first it would make them feel super awkward, but at a certain point they knew I wanted to do it. That’s my style. Then you get all these little gifts because you just let them be and they start talking and they start saying things that you can never write. They also said things to each other during the lunch break or during dinner and I took notes and asked them if we could use it.
Did your acting experience help inform your directing style on Bodies Bodies Bodies?
Oh yes. I think what I really take away from me, having been an actor myself, is that even though it looks so much fun when you’re watching a great movie or a great play, acting is super embarrassing and it is so fucking scary. Especially [since] these people don’t really know each other, and now they have to pretend that they’re friends, or that they’re dating, or that they’re going to have sex, or whatever. The most important thing for me is to make them feel incredibly safe, but also to make them feel that I see them, I hear them – not only because I want them to feel safe, but also because it is better for the film to ask them, “What do you think? Where do you want to be? What do you want to do?”
And then they feel responsible for the project as much as I do, and that will make them feel better and more responsible for their own destiny within this project. So that’s very important to me, but it’s also really creating circumstances where they can actually feel a scene. I think with film, directors often get lost in the technique of it all and they just stop and go. So as an actor you get really short moments where you can act, and then it’s like: “stop! Okay, next time? Okay, one more take.” So what I do is I take a really long time.
So for example, the dance scene at the beginning, we pretty much locked them in that room with the cameraman, with the DP. They had some clues about what was going to happen and [for] the rest they could just do whatever they wanted. We put real music in there so you actually get into the mood of it all, and then it’s easier for them to play either that they’re having fun or that they’re going to be scared later in the movie when everything’s dark. So I want to make it as real and as raw and as animal and primal as I can.
Given that this is such a crazy movie with a lot of unexpected twists and turns, what would you say was your favorite scene in the movie to film?
I’ll be honest with you, all the group scenes were super scary. I was so nervous about them. Also, it’s only my second film. I think, “how am I going to be able to be with all these incredible actors?” They don’t speak my language because I’m not English. So I prepared like a military man. It was two weeks on location, just with my cameraman and me and some stand-ins to choreograph all the group scenes. So I would come prepared. But the scenes that actually turned out to be the funniest were the group scenes. So because we had the preparation and we knew what was going to happen, we pulled it all off. We were also able to be in the moment and actually be open to their ideas.
One of my favorite scenes is the big final scene—it’s something like 15 pages long, which is insane for a movie—and then there’s a big shootout and they all tell each other the truth. I think it’s one of the best scenes in the movie, and they’re all funny, but it’s also tragic, and the final deaths happen. I am very proud of that scene.
Something that sets this movie apart from other slasher movies is how this movie has a lot of satire about friendships in the digital age. So how would you describe the themes that you wanted this film to address?
I myself – even though I’m older – like it all as a group chat. We make WhatsApp, it’s different than you texting. We do WhatsApp and in WhatsApp we are also able to leave a group and then you will see like “Halina has left the group.” The friend group chat thing, it’s like a form of communication that will create so many misunderstandings, and of course it’s become our new thing. Just like you and I are sitting here talking through a screen. We used to be in a room together, you know what I mean? It just changed our lives completely. And I think I just have a lot of questions about how it affects human nature? How will it affect[us[?Showingonlyonscreenhuntersoaddictedtothisstupidmachine[us[?We’reonlywatchingthescreenI’msoaddictedtothisstupidmachine[os[?Viserkunpåskærmenjegersåafhængigafdennedummemaskine[us[?We’reonlywatchingthescreenI’msoaddictedtothisstupidmachine
I spent hours and hours and hours a day just watching this. What would I do if I didn’t? Would I read a book? How is this going to affect how we relate to each other? How will it affect physical intimacy? It’s just more that I have a lot of questions about it and that I thought it would be super fun to make a self-deprecating movie. It’s also a cautionary tale for myself, like “please put your phone away.” I think it’s telling that we start the movie with the girls doing that very beautiful kiss and then they’re lying in the grass and then they say, “I love you,” and the end of the movie is like, “I received .”
So it tells you like these kind of messages. While it’s hopefully a fun, entertaining ride, I also want to say something like, “oh, people let’s just look each other in the eye!” Because if they would do that, if they would stop for a minute and just say, “wait, what’s going on here?” Then the movie would stop. They don’t know what to do in crisis anymore because we’re just locked through those phones. And when the Wi-Fi goes out, they just stop. They don’t know what to do.