BODY Review: Lifeless
There are three types of Christmas Movies.
The first are Christmas Movies where the holiday is either the central focus of the film or integral to the tale (A Christmas Story, The Bishop’s Wife, White Christmas). The second are Christmas Movies where the holiday is neither the central focus nor integral, but its presence as the seasonal setting is so strong, the film has become synonymous with Christmas to the point that it has transitioned from “Non-Traditional Christmas Movie” to “Christmas Movie” (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon). The third are any other films that takes place, in whole or in part, during Christmas. A film like It’s a Wonderful Life has, over time, made the transition from the third column to the second to the first. Other films land in their columns and stay there. Body, with its Christmas setting, finds its initial home in the third column, where it is destined to languish forever until it is forgotten entirely.
Three 20-something besties – Holly (Helen Rogers), Cali (Alexandra Turshen), and Mel (Lauren Molina) – have gotten together for the holidays, but a night of eating, getting high, and playing Scrabble is a little too tame for alpha-female Cali. She suggests the trio visit her rich uncle’s house, left empty for the holidays while he and his family are in France. The trio drink and party and live it up well beyond their means until Cali is caught in a lie; the house is not her uncle’s, but rather an old family friend’s she used to babysit for. As the trio debates whether to stay or go, Arthur (Larry Fessenden), the home’s groundskeeper, catches the girls in the house. A brief scuffle ensues and Arthur is killed. The women need to work out what to do next – namely, what’s right vs. what’s best – but that debate is interrupted by a surprising turn of events.
Because of its construct as one of those thrillers where the aftermath of an incident carries the same weight (if not more) as the incident itself, and because it clocks in at only 78 minutes, Body, from first-time feature co-directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, needs a few things to succeed. It needs a tight script to establish characters, set the stage, execute the event, and have the characters unravel, all in that short timespan. It needs a cast that can convince an audience in a little more than an hour that there is a bond among the characters and that that bond is tested by the turn of events. And it needs confident direction to keep the viewer drawn into the tension, suspicion, doubt, and betrayal that pulses throughout the story.
This film has none of those things.
The screenplay, co-written by Berk and Olsen, spends the first third of the movie (almost to the minute) replacing actual character development with a series of mundane character actions that do nothing to offer insight into who these girls are. Aside from bits of surface information – one girl has a potty mouth and fabulous hair, one of their fathers is a politician up for reelection, one has a boyfriend who keeps calling – these characters are paper dolls and nothing more. Hindering them further is dialogue as flat as their characterizations.
After 24 tedious minutes of merely watching three people (instead of being engaged by them), the Arthur Incident occurs, injecting a moment of interest (and, eventually, one genuine surprise). That moment of interest is fleeting, though. Not only does the remainder of the film consist of more stagnant dialogue, it adds preposterous decisions by the characters, then doubles-down with one offensive, misogynistic moment clearly injected for shock value and nothing more. (The fist-pumping at the table read must have been for the ages.)
It’s difficult to hold the trio of actresses accountable for their awful performances given what they have to work with. That said, they certainly don’t elevate the material any. Nor does veteran Fessenden, who was so terrific in this year’s We Are Still Here. As for Berk and Olsen’s direction, it is both cliché (see: girls’ night dance-around-the-house montage) and lackluster (see: the rest), and completely devoid of any sense of the suspense, thrills, or foreboding needed to pull off a film like this.
By the end of the long 78 minutes, it’s clear Body might have had a better shot at success had it been a true short film as opposed to a lean fill-length feature, as it’s clear these filmmakers don’t yet have the skills necessary to develop a full-length feature from concept to page to screen.
(Oscilloscope Films will release Body in theaters On Friday, December 11, followed by the VOD release on December 29.)