The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Bodies Bodies Bodies.
How did your experience in the industry as an actress influence your approach to this film?
Halina Reijn: Yeah, I used to be an actress, mostly on stage. I was in a theater company and lived in Amsterdam. It was all consuming, but in the wings I was always thinking how I might want to do my own thing. I directed Instinct, which was a very different film than this one. It was based on a true story about a therapist that falls in love with a rapist that she’s treating in jail, kind of like Fifty Shades of Grey gone dark. Then I helped create a show about sex work in Amsterdam, and then A24 sent me the original script for this film and we began to talk. To me, the big thing in that script was the game. There was a killer in that script, and there were a lot of things going on, and I said, well I’m an arthouse director, I’m not sure if a slasher film makes sense. But then I saw this wave and was like, what if it’s not a killer but it’s all about young behavior and what if it’s more like Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies. And A24 was totally open to it and we hired the playwright Sarah DeLappe who lives here in New York and wrote the play Wolves. I was obsessed by that play. It’s centered around young girls who play on a soccer team and how they all talk to each other. The language is amazing but all the characters have such distinct voices and I thought, I need to work with her. That was how we began to craft what you saw today.
what if it’s more like Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies
I was impressed by how inclusive this film was from the very opening scene with the two young women kissing. It’s something natural that should have been seen as normal a long time ago, but it wasn’t.
HR: So much has changed, also as an actress. There have been huge shifts, even for me as a woman to get the opportunity to direct in this way is very special. Within this film specifically, I hope that we were inclusive in our casting. We wanted to make sure that with the queer characters in this film, their storylines weren’t about their queerness… it was just there. Some of them are queer, and some of them are messy characters, some are manipulative and others are more innocent, and their orientation is unrelated to all that. I feel like there’s a huge shift taking place but there’s still a lot of work to do. Especially with a slasher film. There are archetypes of the innocent girl and the beautiful girl and the evil guy, and we really wanted to transcend those traditions and make all the characters many things at once, light and dark. Even though this film is a fun roller coaster, the darker theme is the beast inside or outside of you, and I believe that is inside all of us.
How did you assemble the cast?
HR: Amandla Stenberg was the first one to sign on. I am a total collaborator; I was born into a commune and all I know is people doing everything together. With the cast, since I am older and making a film about young people, it was really important for me to get them on board and know that it wouldn’t just be me telling them what to do. With Amandla, she’s also an EP on the film. With her activism and her queerness and her talent, I really wanted her to really come on board and collaborate. I was so eager to get her. The first meeting was magical and I was so in awe of her intelligence. Then I was sure I wanted Pete [Davidson] and people were like “really?” and then A24 was like, “okay, if you want him, sure.” My thing with Pete is that even though he’s done a lot of comedy, I wanted to go into darkness with him. I wanted to show another side of his acting. We also needed someone who, despite a short amount of screen time, would really be that character and have that energy. Myha’la [Herrold] I chased because I had seen Industry and she was classically trained, so I felt a strong connection there. She would be responsible for the whole story, and not just her own. And then Maria Bakalova, I was amazed after seeing her in Borat and thought, who is this creature, this strange force of nature? Everyone else came through Zoom auditions, and I have so much respect for how challenging that must have been.
Can you talk about working with your Cinematographer?
HR: Our DP, Jasper Wolf—see Monos if you haven’t already—he jumps right in with the cast. He’s like a war photographer and likes that kind of dynamic. I worked with him on Instinct, but that took place in prison so we wanted it to be more static. But for this, I told him we need to go back to his core style. It was important that the big group scenes didn’t feel forced or staged or stiff. The actors didn’t know each other, it was Covid, we couldn’t tell them to go out for a night and have fun together. We could only rehearse in very specific spaces. That was really challenging. As the filmmakers, we felt it was important to create an organic feel to the film, like we’re right there with them and it’s very sensual and sexual and animalistic. So we developed that kind of style. Because we see so many of the killings as they take place, I wanted Jasper and the camera to be part of the group behavior, as a witness. Cassavetes was a big inspiration for that, loose and spontaneous. I told the actors that we’re not going to use the word “coverage,” we’re never going to plan to shoot one person and you’re never going to know where he’s going to be but he’ll feel you. As an actor, that’s kind of thrilling. You have to be alert at all times. Because I’m an actor myself, I wanted to create conditions where they feel it a little bit.
I originally thought this film might be a commentary on a generation, but I actually think it’s a commentary on the viewer.
HR: I agree. I don’t want to be overly pretentious or heavy or about this film, but we do try to say something about human nature. What I like about it is that we can do that in a very contemporary way. The film speaks about group behavior and whether it’s in the Middle Ages or now or the beginning of time, group behavior has always been there. We have a very primal need to belong. I arrived here in New York during Covid and I have never felt so lonely in my life, it was horrible. I could identify with Bee, who wanted to be seen and heard. She tries to make a joke, no one gets it. To me, that’s the heart of the film. But, there is this Gen Z theme that is totally fascinating. I think it’s interesting at any time to get a group of people together that are fresh out of college, and who now need to become grown-ups. And then we incorporate technology and ask what it does to intimacy. That’s why we start the film with “I love you” and a second later they’re on their phones. I don’t want to make fun of the generation… I admire them. When I used to have a panic attack before going on stage, I would hide out of fear. These actors come on set and are like, I had six panic attacks this morning because of this thing that happened! And they have the words to face these things and acknowledge them, while not being ashamed of them. I am in awe of this generation, but I also think it’s important for us all, in every generation, to be able to make fun of ourselves.