As any horror movie fan knows, powerhouse studio A24 simply cannot miss. So the upcoming release of ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies,’ a horror-comedy-whodunit, promises to be among the summer's most killer offerings. Ahead of its release, we spoke to the quintet of actresses holding it all together in this FRONTPAGE interview.
Getting acquainted with Maria Bakalova, Myha’la Herrold, Rachel Sennott, Amandla Stenberg, and Chase Sui Wonders — the powerhouse cast of A24’s summer slasher Bodies Bodies Bodies — reveals five fascinatingly different personalities, but there is one thing they definitely have in common: they don’t like horror movies.
“I'm cool with a thriller. I love a murder mystery. Give me true crime any day. But a slasher moment? So not my jam at all,” Herrold says over a Zoom call from New York. “Not to say that I can't appreciate them, but I have a very queasy stomach.” Sennott, on a separate call from LA, also cites a weak constitution: “Honestly, I get squeamish pretty easily, and so I get scared pretty easily too.” Bakalova, phoning from her native Bulgaria, says that she’s regularly spooked into sleeping with the lights on. “Watching horror movies always freaks me out.” Wonders claims it was “impossible” for her to watch scary movies until only recently: “I was deeply scarred when I was a kid and I vowed to never to watch a horror movie ever again.”
So what enticed five non-horror aficionados to partake in a bona fide bloodbath? As it turns out, Bodies is more than the sum of its parts. “There isn't a monster under the bed,” says Stenberg. “Well, not a literal one.”
Written by playwright Sarah DeLappe, based on a story by Kristen Roupenian (of “Cat Person” renown), and directed by Dutch actress/filmmaker Halina Reijn, Bodies is a fresh take on the slasher film for today’s cultural zeitgeist. The story follows a troupe of friends — some old, some new, most of them rich — holed up at the forest mansion of one of their parents to party their way through a hurricane. Recovering addict Sophie (Stenberg) arrives unannounced with new girlfriend Bee (Bakalova), a shy foreigner, to the surprise and discomfort of the rest of the group: Teflon-shelled Jordan (Herrold), tortured soul Emma (Wonders) and her combative, Supreme-clad boyfriend David (Pete Davidson), fun-loving space cadet Alice (Sennott), and Alice’s date, a 40-something himbo named Greg (Lee Pace). The group’s plans to drink and dance their way through the storm are upended when, during a contentious game of Bodies Bodies Bodies (iterating on murder-themed social deduction games like Mafia or Werewolf), the power goes out and bodies start to pile up for real. With no connection to the outside world, they’re forced to contend with themselves and each other as they try to identify the killer. With its modern sensibility, stylistic flair, and livewire performances, Bodies is something of a yassified Agatha Christie mystery.
“Usually when a script comes into my inbox, I check out the first few pages and I think, ‘Okay, I'll read the rest of it later.’ This was one of those scripts that I started [reading] on my phone and finished in an hour,” Stenberg says on the phone from LA. “I immediately called my agent and said, ‘Holy crap, this one's really special.’” The rest of the cast had similarly strong first impressions about the script. “On the page, it kept switching genres in a way that was fluid,” Herrold says. “I found that really exciting.” Bodies gleefully blurs the lines between horror and comedy, ratcheting up the tension one minute and then slicing through it with an incisive punchline the next. The film carries on the lineage of satirical black comedies like Heathers and Jawbreaker, while many of its structural components — its ensemble performance, enclosed setting, and robust dialogue — invoke Reijn’s and DeLappe’s shared backgrounds in theater. Reijn has described Bodies as “Lord of the Flies meets Mean Girls,” but you could also call it Jennifer’s Body in the key of Chekhov.
Where Jennifer’s Body had Diablo Cody’s punched-up Myspace era dialogue and Heathers took aim at “Swatchdogs and Diet Cokeheads,” DeLappe and Reijn animate Bodies with a voice that speaks to the idiosyncrasies of the TikTok age. The dialogue is peppered with contemporary cultural signifiers — references to astrology and podcasts, mental health buzzwords like “gaslight” and “trigger,” identity politics rhetoric (“Don’t call her a psychopath, that is so ableist”) — with a sardonic, self-aware bite. “It felt very tapped into a generation,” Sennott says. “That online generation, which I feel I'm very much a part of.”
Thankfully, Bodies incorporates these flourishes with tact, avoiding certain clichés we’re all tired of. “I was very impressed at DeLappe's ability to make Gen Z lingo not sound cringe,” says Herrold, who also stars in HBO’s youth-oriented finance drama Industry. “Like, ‘Lit! Off the chain! Have you logged into your TikTok today? Oh snap!’ There are elements of that in the way young people talk, but I would argue that Gen Zers are actually some of the most eloquent and creative linguists out there, because they have so much access to information.” Wonders, who previously appeared in HBO’s teen dramedy series Generation, agrees that Bodies succeeds where others fail at capturing the complexity of today’s youth. “Trying to stereotype Gen Z at large is a common fallacy. People get it wrong a lot,” she says. “The greatest thing that Bodies does is show the nuance within these characters.”
Stenberg, a fixture in YA films and series for the past decade, says she rarely encounters scripts that ring true to how young people relate to each other. “[Something] I really loved about this script was the absurdity and hypocrisy of how [the characters] engage with the politics of their identities, which is something that we all do now… sometimes to the point where it just becomes about demonstrations of intelligence or virtue signaling,” she says. “Those are really complicated conversations, and it was important that we gave these characters a level of sophistication… I feel like I don't see that very often in the scripts that I get.”
That nuance extends to the way Bodies engages with queerness. The film features multiple queer characters, but forgoes exposition about their sexual identities. “I think that's [reflective of] this generation where sexuality is super fluid… No one in this movie ever is like, ‘I'm gay,’” says Sennott, donning a mock dramatic tone. “Your friends would be like, ‘We know.’” Bodies and its cast care not for such tidiness. “What's really important to me is seeing queer women portrayed as they are, where it's not just shiny perfect or really sad,” Sennott says. “The queer girls in this movie are so messy and toxic, and I love it.”
Stenberg also finds merit in the mess: “I don't want to digest queer content all the time that has a rainbow flag plastered across it. I want to see onscreen relationships and dynamics between queer people that mirror some of the experiences I have within my own community and social group. What was really special was being able to lean into the hilarity of some of our queer interpersonal experiences and depict those dynamics in a way that was real. It's a joy to show up as yourself, with all the dimensions of self, and know that you're focusing on the truth, [not] trying to construct some monolithic idea of what it is to be gay.”
The cast formed an intimate bond over the weeks they spent in Upstate New York during production, “being nocturnal beasts with each other,” as Wonders describes, and holed up at a motel when they weren’t shooting. Conversely to their characters, whose relationships quickly hit the fan, the actors’ time spent drenched in rain and blood — and yes, playing a few real games of Werewolf — only brought them that much closer together. “Rachel, Chase, Myha'la, Maria, they all make me laugh so hard,” Stenberg says. “We had this energy together that was really encouraging, where we made each other feel safe to try out our ideas.” Sennott explains that for an ensemble performance like this one, that mutual support is invaluable. “When you have those harder scenes, we all have each other's backs,” she says. “You’re family.”
On and off screen, the chemistry between the Bodies cast is further enriched by the diversity of their performance backgrounds. Sennott is a seasoned standup who honed her comedic timing on stage and online for years before her breakout in Shiva Baby last year. Bakalova has a strong comedy resumé as well, boasting collaborations with Judd Apatow and Sacha Baron Cohen — her performance in Borat Subsequent Movie Film earned her an Academy Award nomination — but prior to her Hollywood breakthrough, Bakalova had an active career in theater and film in Bulgaria, where she started acting at age 12. Herrold, also a theater native, attended Carnegie Mellon’s esteemed drama program and performed on Broadway prior to joining Industry. Wonders has a prestigious pedigree of her own, having graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, where she studied film and wrote for the Lampoon while also acting and modeling. Stenberg, meanwhile, has had a prolific film and TV career since her 2012 breakout in The Hunger Games, and is reportedly joining the Star Wars universe next year.
The multifaceted skill set of the ensemble “felt like some Power Rangers type energy,” Stenberg says. “Everyone is so special and unique and brought something valuable to the table.” Harnessing that energy was Reijn, herself an accomplished stage and screen actor, who made her directorial debut in 2019 with Dutch thriller Instinct. The cast praises Reijn for nurturing a spirit of creative collaboration and encouragement on set. “Halina is incredible. She's so freaking emotionally intelligent,” Bakalova gushes. “She knows how to make you feel comfortable to the level that you can destroy all the boundaries that you have, all the limits that you believe you have.” Reijn’s acting expertise also came in handy. “She'll just change her face into an emotion,” Wonders says. “It's like this automatic shorthand.”
Reijn’s theatrical experience factored prominently into crafting the film’s many dialogue-heavy sequences. The cast describes an immersive, improvisational energy that often felt more like a play than a typical movie shoot, with Reijn letting the camera roll for several pages uninterrupted rather than shooting piecemeal coverage; an approach that prioritizes performance above all else. “The chops and the commitment that it takes to make it through a 13 page scene with five people is immense,” says Herrold, who was particularly excited by the opportunity. “[Reijn] spent a lot of time with us rehearsing, figuring out the dynamics between the characters, blocking out the space, and making sure that the room felt like a space within which we could move and play like a stage,” says Stenberg. Cinematographer Jasper Wolf shot roaming, handheld wides, and had what Wonders calls “an emotional umbilical cord attached to each actor” that allowed him to intuit where to point the camera at the right moments. “He [was] running around the room, following us with the camera,” Herrold says. “It create[d] this organized chaos that I think is complementary to the relationships [and] the content of the film.”
A climactic argument scene late in the film fully realizes this creative vision. The characters unleash everything they’ve been holding back, as the camera dizzyingly whips around the room catching each barb, until their lacerating insults escalate to a vicious peak. It’s the scene Sennott feels most proud of, and that Stenberg says was an immediate favorite moment in the script, made even stronger by an improvised choice Sennott made while shooting. “Originally it was written that Alice fought back [against Sophie], but Rachel did this hilarious thing where she just acted completely afraid of saying the wrong thing or not validating my feelings,” Stenberg explains. “That became one of the funniest threads to follow: when these characters call each other out, how do they respond?” For these characters, the fear of a potential serial killer in their midst barely stacks up against the fear of being exposed for their flaws.
“The monster is their own egos and vapidity,” Stenberg says. The call is coming from inside the house.
‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’ is out on August 5.