Admittedly, it was a tall order for the renowned director, actress and author, marking her U.S. feature film debut with this bloody satire starring Pete Davidson, Amandla Stenberg, Lee Pace and Oscar nominee Maria Bakalova.
“I wanted to approach it as a commentary on the times we live in and Gen Z – but also myself because I’m totally addicted to my phone,” cracks the director who made her critically acclaimed directorial film debut in 2019 with Instinct, starring Game of Thrones’ Carice van Houten.
Set over 24 hours on a dark and stormy night, seven bored, privileged and totally incompatible friends throw themselves a “hurricane party”. Gathered in a remote mansion, they play a party game called Bodies, Bodies, Bodies – a twisty take on Murder in the Dark – resulting in bloody consequences.
Taking a deep dive into the lives of these rich young Americans proved a steep learning curve: “Coming from Amsterdam, I knew I had to do a lot of research because we were trying to create these American characters where there is a very specific class system and education is not free like in my country, so I found it pretty daunting,” admits Reijn.
“So, when I really got into the culture, it was like a horror movie by itself,” she laughs. “But it’s also fertile ground to create these interesting relationships with drama and comedy. My goal with the film was to examine human nature and group behaviour and do it in a fun, light and entertaining way.”
At 46-years old, Reijn understood her age would be a handicap in fully understanding the youth culture as outlined in Kristen Roupenian’s story, co-writing the script with Sarah DeLappe.
“I had a young playwright writing the script with me, which of course came in very handy when wanting to make a film about this young generation,” she says.
Smartly utilising the real life social media experiences of her young cast, including Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders and Myha’la Herrold, the director actively encouraged their input.
“Of course, I asked them everything, like ‘What is your taste in music?’ And they were sending me playlists. ‘How do you speak? Is this dialogue believable to you? Do you want to add something?’
“Whenever we had lunch or dinner, I would literally take notes of the words they were saying, or how they would interact; to me, it was super important that the friendships be believable because it’s very easy to make a cliche film about social media. I really wanted to be authentic and chaotic and wild and real and sensuous and sexy and ‘of the now’. So, I collaborated with them and really leaned on them as well, because it’s their film,” she says of the movie which was shot in a spooky mansion in Chappaqua, upstate New York, a veritable house of horrors replete with rats, spiders and inexplicable noises.
Pete Davidson was always top of Reijn’s casting wish list: “When Sarah and I were writing the script. I always wanted Pete as David. He was my first choice, and the first person that plopped into my mind. Of course, he’s an insane talent as far as comedy and stand up and Saturday Night Live, but even though I thought he had a great acting talent, he’s always used in a goofy, funny stoner kind of way in the films that he’s in. And I thought, ‘No, no, no’, I want to make him dark,” she emphasises.
“I wanted to make use of a different side of him, and he was really open to that. He really wants to examine being a very serious actor as well, so I loved working with him. And, like me, he also comes from the stage. He did Angels in America and so I felt that kind of connection with him, like him being a sort of father to the whole group when we were shooting. And that was just so funny because I also related to that,” she says of Davidson, despite the fact that he’s only 28 years old.
“Looking at all these young people in the film, I’m like, ‘Oh, what is happening!?’ But then Pete was also asking questions like, ‘So how do you play?’ So, he was trying to keep up with them too, but it’s no use,” she recalls.
If Davidson’s fans feel like they know him through his high profile relationships with Kim Kardashian, Kate Beckinsale, Ariana Grande or Phoebe Dynevor – or from his SNL sketches and film roles in The Suicide Squad or The King of Staten Island – then Reijn paints a different portrait.
“Pete Davidson is extremely kind. I think a lot of people say this, but it’s just because it’s the truth. He’s extremely kind and just a very warm-hearted soul who is open to anything,” says the Reijn.
Bakalova, 26, agrees. “Professionally, he was extremely disciplined. We were all fascinated by his organisation of the material he’s about to perform and he was really there for all of us,” says the Bulgarian actress best known for her breakout role opposite Sacha Baron Cohen in 2020 comedy hit, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
“And the character he was playing was such an asshole, yet he is one of the nicest people out there,” she adds.
A fierce social commentator, Bodies Bodies Bodies is totally in the wheelhouse for Stenberg, 23, who was included in Time’s list of Most Influential Teens in 2015 and 2016, declaring in 2017 that she had stopped using her smartphone, citing social media as having a negative effect on mental health.
“I think this movie is so relevant because it speaks, in a very authentic way, to the specific culture that we’re living in now, which is a new culture. It’s a new culture of internalising an immense amount of information very quickly; of constructing our relationships through the lens of social media; of having our entire lives dictated by this new kind of social order that no rules exist for yet,” says the actress who was just ten when she made her first film Colombiana, a year later, winning hearts as the adorable Rue in The Hunger Games in 2012.
“And so, what that leads to is, there are elements of our culture that are run rampant: the culture of accountability, which has turned into cancel culture, the culture of feeling like you have to present yourself online in this specific way. And the result is that we don’t have relationships that are as deep or as meaningful, or maybe are based upon a sort of judgment,” asserts the passionate The Hate U Give star.
“This film is about a group of people whose relationships function that way and when shit hits the fan, they don’t have much to lean back on because they haven’t learned the skill of actually cultivating deep meaning within what they learn and their relationships,” she adds.
Showcasing so much youthful talent in her film, Reijn admits that she demanded much from them. “I asked a lot from my actors. I wanted them to prepare as if they were going to do a theatre play. They had to learn all their lines and be able to do a whole run through of the whole film. I said, ‘We’re going to do long takes, you’re not going to stop and look at your scripts. And, at the same time, I asked them to improvise, asking them to really go there with each other and they were all open to that, so I’m super proud of all of them,” she says.
Bodies, Bodies, Bodies is in cinemas September 15, 2022