Reviews

'Body' Feels More Dead Than Alive

There are glimmers of hope in Body, but it isn't executed as well as it could be and suffers from a lack of distinctiveness.


Body

Director: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Cast: Helen Rogers, Alexandra Turshen, Lauren Molina
Studio: Last Pictures, Smiley Ball Films
Year: 2015
US Release Date: 2015-12-29 (VOD)

There’s not too much to say about Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s Body. The film presents us with a simple premise that offers ample opportunities for tension, but squanders most of it by opting to take the predictable path, leading to a lack of thrill or surprise that's dragged out over 70-minutes. The presence of indie-horror darling Larry Fessenden doesn’t do too much to save the film either, although he’s the most compelling part of it.

Single-location thrillers driven by dialogue have a lot of potential to be rewarding, as Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990) demonstrate, but Body doesn’t manage to do anything to elevate it above any number of similarly scrappy modern indie thrillers, like Bruce MacDonald’s chilling Pontypool (2008).

We follow a group of three female friends as they amuse themselves in a wealthy relative’s sprawling home after a Christmas party. When an unknown intruder collides with the three girls, an accident leads to said intruder’s body laying at the bottom of the stairs. Tensions mount as the women argue about what to do with the body, culminating in violence.

A simple setup doesn’t have to lead to an uninspired story, but it seems to do so more often than not. Throughout the film, there's a myriad of instances that have the potential to be great dramatic moments, but they end up falling flat because they take the uninteresting or predictable route. Take for example the classic ‘intruder on the scene’ moment. Those covering up the crime are startled by an unexpected arrival that risks their discovery. As is to be expected, the film pulls this card. Unfortunately, this is one of the only moments where the threat of discovery feels real, and instead of working with it and developing it, the directors are all too eager to get it resolved extremely quickly and with a minimum of stress.

The most unfortunate aspect of the film, however, doesn’t even lie in a lack of genuine thrill -- it lies with the characters. Unsympathetic characters don’t doom films to failure. In fact, some great films -- Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (2014) or Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007) among them -- have used morally bankrupt, horrible protagonists to great effect by using them intentionally, as a tool to question moral codes or even as character studies of underrepresented personalities.

Body presents us with a trio of characters led by the very unlikeable Cali. Rounding out the crew is throwaway character Mel, a girl that doesn’t do much of anything, except act as the intermediary between abrasive Cali and our quiet and shy protagonist and anchor, Holly. For those hoping for more backstory to round out the characters, there’s very little save for some hints that they are students.

Where the film sidesteps is in making Cali the most vocal and abrasive. She’s crass, hedonistic, interested in having a good time with no thought for the future, and she thinks only of herself. While it fits her character, she simply overpowers Holly -- the person we are supposed to be focused on. Cali sets the plot into motion and moves it forward, even though that should be Holly’s job. What ends up happening is that we don’t particularly care if the three are discovered because we end up judging them insofar as they are led by Cali, and it’s difficult to build sympathy for Cali without developing her character as more than a narcissistic and morally questionable young woman.

Body isn’t an epic-length film. Instead, the film deals in female stereotypes -- Cali as the amoral party girl, Holly as the quiet and reserved one. It clocks in at a mere 75-five minutes, with credits. There's plenty of room to build the characters, but we only get glimpses into their lives, and that doesn't help us build a picture of them. Instead, the film deals in female stereotypes, e.g., the party girl, and the quiet one. The film revolves around how the characters deal with a stressful situation, but without knowing the characters, it doesn’t matter what they do because it doesn’t feel like their actions are an outgrowth of their personality.

That being said, the actors manage to do a solid job with the characters they’re given. All of them turn in good performances, but it’s Larry Fessenden as Arthur that brings the most memorable acting to the film, despite being in the same position for most of it. His Arthur is well-realized, with a genuine “why me” attitude coming out prominently, but not excessively.

As for the film’s technical elements, it’s hard to fault any of it. Body won’t win awards in the creativity of its sound design or cinematography because it doesn’t really attempt to step out of the box in those areas. That being said, the visuals are solid and the set design and locations conjure a very vivid and realistic picture of the world.

Ultimately, it’s clear that Body isn’t trying too hard to step out of a mold, and for what it attempts to do, it does it decently well. Unfortunately, with so many similar movies coming from the indie world, being indistinguishable is a real blow to your film.

Movies like Byrkit’s Coherence (2014) play with the single-location mystery thriller in ways that extend past their genre trappings, where movies like Adam Green’s Frozen (2010) really ratchet up the stakes to unbearably tense results. Body doesn’t do either well enough, which is unfortunate, given that there’s a good movie somewhere inside of it.

5

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