Not all horror movies have ghosts or zombies or monsters or masked murderers hacking up teenagers. Sometimes, horror movies just find regular people in terrible circumstances and watch as things heat up, like ants put under a magnifying glass in the sun. That’s the case in Body, the feature debut from the writing/directing team of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen and a solid four character thriller and a welcome surprise this year.
Three friends, Holly (Helen Rogers), Mel (Lauren Molina) and Cali (Alexandra Turshen) are hanging out on Christmas Eve. They’ve eaten too much, they’ve smoked a little weed and now they’ve gotten bored. Cali suggests they go over to her rich uncle’s house, which is empty for the holidays. They head over and drink some more and goof around a little. Then a man (Larry Fessenden) shows up and surprises them. There is an accident. That’s when things really start to go bad.
For its first 30 minutes or so, Body is one of the best ‘80s slumber party movies not made in the ‘80s. The chemistry and interplay between the three lead actresses is easy and fun; they seem like real friends because they make each other laugh, not just because the movie tells us they are friends. Their camaraderie makes the eventual turns the story takes even more difficult; we like them so much as a group that we don’t want to see them turn on one another. While it would be easy to categorize each of the girls into established archetypes — the brain, the good girl, the party girl — Berk and Olsen’s screenplay doesn’t take any such shortcuts. These girls are characters not because they’re forced into familiar boxes but because the three actresses inform them with real personalities. They create actual people who react differently to their circumstances but never in a way that’s dishonest.
At a trim 75 minutes, the film is tightly constructed and confidently made. Berk and Olsen’s direction is stylish but never flashy, and the movie’s structure (it is to movies what the “bottle episode” is to television: small cast, single location) allows all the fat to be trimmed, minus one temporary diversion with an outside character that offers a bit of suspense but basically no payoff. This is a taut, smart and nasty little film that gets us to fall in love with it before really twisting the knife.
Like Stuart Gordon’s underrated Stuck (the film to which this one can most easily be compared), Body isn’t a “horror” film in the traditional supernatural or slasher sense. This is a film about the horror of human behavior — about what happens to people when they are tested and become the worst versions of themselves. It is a film about how we react to being afraid and the depths to which we will sink when we think no one will ever find out what we’ve done. The horror here is a slow burn to the point that for much of it’s running time, Body doesn’t even seem like a horror movie. Don’t be fooled. It is.