Body Dir. Dan Berk, Robert Olsen

[Oscilloscope; 2015]

Styles: suspense, thriller
Others: Suicide Kings, Donkey Punch, The Trouble with Harry

Intrigued by its Saul Bass-inspired poster, and then finally nudged over the edge by a press kit comparison with Hitchcock’s Rope, I gave Body a shot mainly to see if it managed to capture that weird, unsettling, and measured feel of Hitchcock’s suspense films. Directed by Funny Or Die veterans Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, and featuring some very thoughtful filmcraft in its construction, unfortunately (though unsurprisingly) the similarities between this and Hitchcock pretty much end at the cover art. Body is a thriller that hinges upon a moral quandary that it either doesn’t have the ability or desire to explore smartly. Interminable and unfunny wasted early dialogue does nothing to establish characters which we’re supposed to care about later when things take a predictably dark and laconic turn. This is, after all, a thriller.

It’s a couple of nights before Christmas in Long Island and 3 college students find themselves at like 9 p.m. having worn out the charms of holiday food, wine, and a little bit of weed. Bored out of their minds, the three young women head to a palatial estate down the shore where one coed’s fabulously wealthy uncle lives to raid the liquor cabinet and cut a little looser than they already have been. The trouble with the early scenes in Body is the attempt at easy banter between the three leads. Loosely put together sequences of inane banter and goofy/quirky bon mots hope to achieve the same kind of character building you’d see from Whit Stillman or a young Noah Baumbach fall woefully flat, and frankly leave one feeling embarrassed for the actors who have to deliver them. Perhaps it’s something in the way that the small talk draws so much attention to itself, or how the characters seem to be forcing the nonchalance they’re attempting, but the entire effect pulls the audience almost completely out of the action.

As it becomes more and more apparent that the ditsiest of the three wasn’t being altogether truthful about the state of the estate, the three young women run into serious trouble when the caretaker happens upon them and then immediately upon a pretty terrible accident. And here is where the moral intrigue of the film and pretty much all of its import hinges. Discussions around moral responsibility and their collective future come off hollow and lack the kind of tension you would come to expect from the gravity of their situation. It’s an odd thing, the way Body loses its momentum just when you’d think it the most narrative fuel to work with, and for a film that clocks in at just over an hour, the sequences with the three main characters and the estate’s caretaker drag on almost impossibly.

There is nothing outright terrible about Body, but even the injection of some pretty brutal violence toward its end cannot infuse excitement into its uneventful and plodding conclusion. We’re left pretty much where we started. The directors’ knack for staging and some very solid camerawork leave me eager to see what the pair does next, and perhaps freeing themselves from the strictures of a boilerplate thriller format will find the team putting their undeniable talents to better use.

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