The average person believes they would do the right thing in a very bad situation. It’s what we’ve been trained to do our whole lives, whether or not we realize it. But, when push comes to shove, some of us are willing to take the ‘easy’ way out. This is what happens in Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s directorial debut, a film where the main characters carry out a terrible crime. How they correct it is far from easy.
In fact, it is needlessly complicated and utterly immoral. What started off as a night of fun with friends ends up being the worst mistake of three women’s lives. And now, the only thing standing between them and freedom is a body.
“For three friends and a man at the wrong place at the wrong time, Christmas will never be the same ever again.”
It’s Christmas Eve. Holly (Helen Rogers), Cali (Alexandra Turshen), and Mel (Lauren Molina) are home for the holidays, and they are bored out of their minds. No way are they are going to call it a night at 9:30 either. Instead, Cali convinces her friends to go to her uncle’s place nearby while he and his family are away. And what a place it is—the Georgian mansion is chock full of distractions. Yet when Holly notices something peculiar about the house, she and her friends flee at the first sign of danger. In their haste to escape, though, they hurt an innocent bystander. His injury is more serious than they originally thought, and the three women are now saddled with the realization that they’ve killed someone.
The obvious answer to their dilemma is to call the police. Admit their wrongdoing and accept the consequences. Rather, the women conceive a plan to both soften the blow of their crime and absolve them of blame. For three friends and a man at the wrong place at the wrong time, Christmas will never be the same ever again.
As with Berk and Olsen’s recent film Villains, the pair wanted to write a story that’s contained to a single location. Both movies have an entrance as well an exit to a house of misgivings, but, for the most part, the crux of the drama occurs in one spot. Their desire to pilfer our psychological recesses and have us questioning our morals is done on purpose. In Body, they forgo a more traditional setup where the characters are reacting to an external threat. As a thought-provoking alternative, the women create the problem themselves.
Shot in idyllic Westport, Connecticut, the movie lulls us into a safespace decked out with seasonal cues and carefree cheer. It’s the calm before the storm. That’s not to say there isn’t an uneasiness in the air. Berk and Olsen have crafted us a hideaway from all the horror to come. We can look back to the beginning and remember how the biggest worry these characters had was them finding something to do other than getting baked with Mel‘s younger brother.
“[…] the details of the crime here are so intimate that viewers feel almost as guilty as the actual perpetrators.”
Body is so compelling because of the tight-knit relationship between the friends. And, for the story to work, chemistry among its cast was essential. Berk and Olsen already knew Rogers from a previous project, and she and Molina were a good fit. It was the part of Cali that was tricky. They auditioned a number of candidates with only Turshen being “the total package.” She had everything necessary to make Cali not only loathsome but also the driving force of the movie.
The hapless groundskeeper, played by horror icon Larry Fessenden, spends the majority of his screentime on his back, communicating the victim’s fear with pained pleas and limited facial movements. Though it might appear he got the short end of the script, Fessenden’s ability to bring so much sympathy to a minor character should not go unnoticed.
Mind And Body
Like in the movies Shallow Grave and Funny Games, the details of the crime here are so intimate that viewers feel almost as guilty as the actual perpetrators. We are driven through the entire scenario and its revisions. Not a single detail is left out, and that kind of knowledge weighs heavy on the audience’s conscience.
Suffice it to say, Body would have been very different had it not been for Cali‘s wicked proposition. The film waves the theme of right versus wrong like a flag, reminding us that anyone is capable of making a bad decision. To better illustrate this point, the three women represent our id, ego, and super-ego. Their designated roles help us better understand their crisis even when we don’t agree with their eventual choices. Seeing as she’s the moral center, Holly is plainly the super-ego. She initially wants to call for help, and her commitment to the plan wavers again and again.
Cali plays her part as the id with inflexibility. From the get-go, she has no filter. When she’s not enticing Mel‘s brother with the hypothetical proposal of them hooking up, she’s having her friends break and enter without them being the wiser. Cali is ruled by her desires. Although she obviously cared for Holly and Mel at some point, Cali‘s welfare is of the utmost importance. Meanwhile, Mel sounds off as the least vocal of the trio. She acts as the ego from time to time, but her attempts at mediating gets buried. On the flip side, Mel is crucial to the final act. We as the onlookers of this odious thought experiment need her split-second response to a situation that has spiraled out of control. It’s the relief we’re owed.
The film points out entitlement at its worst. When it boils down to dealing with the outcome of their unwise, reckless behavior — namely delivering a deathblow, albeit unintentional, to someone who they see as nothing more than an obstacle in their getting ahead in life — the women decide being responsible simply isn’t for them. They’re more concerned with Mel being kicked out of law school, or Holly‘s father not getting re-elected. Sure, it’s Cali orchestrating everything, but her partners in crime are guilty just the same for going along with the plan.
In relation, one would be remiss to not bring up the most contentious element in the women’s scheme. It preemptively slaps the face of an entire movement that demanded wrongdoers be held accountable. Inserting it into the story will undoubtedly divide audiences. At the same time, incorporating this facet reeks of a privilege that women do not possess in our society. Could the movie have worked without it? Definitely. Its inclusion is absurd and a product of an all but unfounded fantasy.
In one’s exploration of Body, they’ll find a sordid parable that’s not at all inviting. It paints a dark picture with a Yuletide backdrop. The protagonists are aggressively selfish, and the overall tone of the movie is exceptionally mean-spirited. Notwithstanding, Berk and Olsen’s risky narrative sells the film. We bear witness to a sort of depravity that none of us would ever dream of engaging in, much less humor. Our sick curiosity keeps us glued to the screen as Holly, Cali, and Mel debase their ethics.
There is a huge misstep — perhaps even irresponsible storytelling that feeds into an egregious social fallacy — along the way that will never sit well with viewers. Couple that with unsavory characters and you’ve got one of the most perplexing Christmas-set thrillers around. Body is not a pleasant film, but a single viewing will leave you more chilled than walking in a bitter snowstorm.
“We bear witness to a sort of depravity that none of us would ever dream of engaging in, much less humor. Our sick curiosity keeps us glued to the screen as Holly, Cali, and Mel debase their ethics.”