Tag Archives: Rachel Sennott

Let Them Hit the Floor

Bodies Bodies Bodies

by Hope Madden & George Wolf

In a way, we’ve seen Bodies Bodies Bodies before. A group of good-looking, rich young people gathers in a remote home to imbibe and play stupid games that turn deadly. Think April Fool’s Day, Truth or Dare, Ouija.

A24’s latest horror film isn’t a straight reimagining or a satire of the sub-subgenre. It’s barely a part of the subgenre. Instead, B3 delivers an insider’s skewering of the sociology of a generation.

The result never condescends or patronizes. Not that it’s kind.

Director Halina Reijn’s clever (if slight) film roots its comedy and horror in Gen Z culture. Sophie (Amandla Stenberg, who also produces) brings her new girlfriend Bee (Maria Bakalova, Oscar nominee from Borat 2) to a rich buddy’s mansion for a hurricane party.

That buddy (Pete Davidson) and the rest of Sophie’s inner circle didn’t really expect her to show up, let alone bring a plus-one. And Bee’s more than a little out of her element with this group of spoiled rich kids.

When the weather finally hits, they decide to play a game with the lights off where one “killer” taps a player on the back, they play dead, and the one who finds them shouts “bodies bodies bodies.” Then you try to figure out the killer.

This is also the plot of the rest of the movie. Reijn and writers Sarah DeLappe and Kristen Roupenian are essentially predicting what happens when this generation finds themselves trapped without internet: Lord of the Flies.

A wicked script buoyed by smart visuals—particularly the use of lighting—emphasizes the social anxiety strangling these characters. Agatha Christie turns Agatha Bitchy as paranoia, self-absorption and toxic douchebaggery spoil the party games.

Reijn works the dark corners and vast emptiness of the estate setting for an effective undercurrent of tension as the beats and bodies keep dropping. And though the bloodletting is often offscreen, every new discovery becomes a chance to sharpen suspicions, reopen old wounds and hurl new accusations, with each partygoer struggling to navigate both offense and defense.

The compact cast sparkles with young talent, led by Stenberg and Bakalova. We essentially come to party with them, and it is the breakdown in their characters’ trust that keeps us off balance and fuels our anxieties. Davidson has fun riffing on his own bad boy image, and Shiva Baby‘s Rachel Sennot delivers the biggest smiles as the dim-witted Alice (“guys, doing a podcast is haaaaard!”).

The social commentary here is a bit tardy to be profound, and the 95-minute running time gets filled out via some repetition, but Bodies Bodies Bodies finds an entertaining sweet spot between gore and guffaws.

There’s just enough humor and horror to make the whodunnit less vital, so even solving the mystery early won’t spoil the party. The fun comes from just riding out the storm, and the film’s deliciously deadpan final line reveals that was the plan all along.

Rites of Passage

Tahara

by George Wolf

If you saw Rachel Sennot’s breakout performance in last year’s wonderful Shiva Baby, the setup of Tahara is going to look pretty familiar. But in their feature debut, writer Jess Zeidman and director Olivia Peace find a vibrant, refreshing lens for their own look at one funeral’s anxious aftermath.

Sennot is terrific again as the self-centered Hannah, who joins her more reserved best friend Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece, also excellent) at the service for their Hebrew school classmate Samantha. Samantha killed herself at the age of 18, and after the funeral the girls will join other classmates at a grief session to talk about their feelings.

They will also gossip, navigate cliques, and bitch about having to be there while they try to catch the eye of Tristan (Daniel Taveras).

At least Hannah will be flirting with Tristan. Because Carrie is hiding some true feelings for her bestie, a conflict that Peace and Zeidman surround with some touching and effective parallels.

Peace frames most of the film in a square, 1:1 aspect ratio, but goes wide at important moments, most of which are animated. It’s a clear nod to the times when Carrie, a young Jewish queer woman of color, sees herself – and the world – in new ways.

Though the animation sequences and lack of score can give the film an experimental feel, a juxtaposition with the Jewish ritual meant to cleanse the body before burial (Tahara) ultimately grounds it as a deeply personal journey.

The students tell their teacher (and by extension, those not familiar with Jewish traditions) that the ritual’s goal is to “erase social status,” which feeds perfectly into the teenage power struggles (and one suicide) we see through the eyes of a type of character not often represented.

At times funny, uncomfortable, and heartbreaking, Tahara is an ambitious and ultimately moving film, from a pair of voices we should look forward to hearing again.

My Normal Size Jewish Funeral

Shiva Baby

by George Wolf

“You can’t just show up for the after party for a shiva, and like, reap the benefits of the buffet.”

Twentysomething Danielle (Rachel Sennott – irresistible) is definitely guilty of skipping the actual funeral (she doesn’t even know who died!), but if there are benefits to the after party, she isn’t reaping them. It’s awkward enough that her former flame Maya (Molly Gordon) is there, but that’s hardly the worst of it.

To her horror, Danielle sees that Max (Danny Deferarri) is there, too. Max is Danielle’s sugar daddy, and look, he brought his beautiful wife (Dianna Agron) and their cute baby daughter!

With Shiva Baby, Emma Seligman expands her 2018 short film for a feature debut full of observational comedy, mounting anxiety and a strangely appealing sexiness. Imagine the Coen Brothers rebooting Uncut Gems as a coming-of-age sex comedy, and you get an idea of the tonal tightrope Seligman is able to command.

The film’s opening finds Danielle confident and alluring. By the end of the day, she’s an unkempt, sweaty mess of beverages, blood and embarrassment. Almost all of Danielle’s arc takes place inside the home of the bereaved, and Seligman makes sure that is a hilariously uncomfortable place to be.

Danielle’s parents (the ever-reliable Fred Melamed and a scene-stealing Polly Draper) pressure her to work the room for job contacts, family friends inquire about her post-college plans, Molly wonders why Danielle ghosted her, and Max’s wife is getting suspicious.

And through it all, Seligman’s camera draws in closer and closer, making Danielle’s darkly comic claustrophobia almost palpable.

Clearly, much of Seligman’s sharp dialog comes from personal experience, and if it’s one you share this is a film that will feel like part of the family. But you didn’t have to be Greek to get caught up in that Big Fat Wedding, and you don’t have to be Jewish to see the joy in Shiva Baby.

Seligman flashes an insight that disarms you with sex and humor, keeping its hand at a subtle distance. But by the time we’re leaving that buffet, a breakout filmmaker and star have delivered a fresh, funny and intimate take on the indignities of finding yourself.