[Interview] Halina Reijn for BODIES BODIES BODIES

[Interview] Halina Reijn for BODIES BODIES BODIES
In BODIES BODIES BODIES, a group of rich 20-somethings plans a hurricane party at a remote family mansion. Right off the bat, things aren’t going as expected. Awkward reunions stir up old issues, and strangers to the group have others wary.  As the hurricane slowly moves in, drugs come out and the party starts to ramp up. Things seem to be going okay until the group starts to play games. A party game turns deadly in this fresh and funny look at backstabbing, fake friends, and a party that goes incredibly wrong.

For the theatrical release of BODIES BODIES BODIES, which we’ve reviewed right here, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky got the chance to chat with director Halina Reijn about the film. During the conversation, they discussed the draw of exploring group behavior under pressure, how her theatrical background influenced her approach to tackling the logistics of the set, and how the music was designed around the idea of always moving forward.

BODIES BODIES BODIES is a fun, yet super tense film. How did you come to be involved with this project?

Halina Reijn: I came to be involved in film because I switched careers. I retired as an actress, and then I made my first film Instinct. It was a very dark film about a therapist who falls in love with a rapist. It’s based on a true story. A24 saw that film, and they asked me if I would read this script. I read a very early version of the script and I liked it. I was intrigued by it because my friends and I always used to play Mafia and Murderer or Werewolf, whatever you want to call it. It would always end up in a disaster and I would always be the one who would be like oh, let’s not play it anymore. Then two weeks later, we would play it again. The psychological warfare of it all, the whole idea of group behavior and what a group can do under pressure, and who [we are] when we are in a pressure cooker together, was what intrigued me.

BTS of Bodies Bodies Bodies l A24

It’s fascinating that you mention group pressure because the film focuses on 20-somethings who have been brought up with the culture of the internet. In its own way, that alone is an experiment on group behavior. It translates quite well. As the script was developing, were you able to collaborate on that at all?

Halina Reijn: I told A24 my ideas of how I would want to do it. What was very important for me was to make it very real and make it, like you said, about this time and about this generation. Making a film, or a play, it’s all a lot, as you probably know. For me, the stakes have to be very high. and I have to find some darkness and realness in it. Because otherwise, to me, there’s no point.

So I told them all my ideas and then we got Sarah Delappe to work with me on a new version of the script. She’s a playwright and she wrote a genius play called Wolves, which is also about a group but it’s a female soccer team of young girls. When I read that play, I was totally impressed by how all these characters were the same age and going through sort of the same events but had their own voice. If you want to make a film about groups, you better be very good in character, and [asking] how are they all distinct? How are they all individuals?

I thought she was very funny on the page, so then we started to talk about Chekhov and Shakespeare. Those are all our references and not so much the classical slasher films. We took our own theater roles and tried to put them in whatever genre this now is. God knows. It’s maybe more a murder mystery than anything else, or it’s maybe more a comedy or it’s maybe more horror. I feel it’s all of that a little bit.

I read it as this generation’s Clue, which sounds like blasphemy because Clue still is wonderful. But it gave me very much like a modern-day Clue.

Halina Reijn: 100%. Clue was an inspiration. Clue and Heathers and murder mystery, in general, I really love.

One of the biggest characters of this film is the house. What was the process like in scouting the location? Because it’s just as important as everyone else in the film.

Halina Reijn: We saw a lot of houses and a lot of them are very beautiful with lots of glass. I wanted something that was a symbol of the American Dream gone wrong, like greed and narcissism. So a very decadent mansion, but with a little bit of neoclassicism if you will. We [then] found this weird, huge house for sale, but nobody wanted to buy it. Immediately I fell in love because I could literally find every location that was in the script. I could find in that house the basketball court [and] all these dramatic locations.

I thought it would [also be] very good to create an environment that is like a theater, because that’s all I know. [A place] where everybody can stay. We slept really close by in a motel, but they had their own space, and we could leave all the equipment there, that we would literally be in that pressure cooker together at all times, and it was absolutely a joy to shoot there.

Courtesy A24

My brain immediately went to how they do the set for August: Osage County where it’s a three-floored house, and you can see where everyone is in each section of the house. It’s funny that you said you think of it in terms of theater, because that set design is what immediately jumps to mind when compared to the home here.

Halina Reijn: Exactly, and it was also weird because the animals kept coming into the house. A real frog was in the house. A raccoon was in the house, a snake, etc. I was super scared, of course, being from Amsterdam, but I loved it. Because to me, the film is about that. It’s about the beast coming out of all of them. They seem so rich and so smart, but they’re not and then they become animals. So I love that the animals were trying to take over [the house].

A lot of the film is shot in the dark, which you guys did great on. Lighting is always tricky. How did you tackle choreographing the scenes with all the actors while also figuring out the lighting situation?

Halina Reijn: The choreography was super important to me. When the script was done, I was like, Oh, my God, it’s only my second film. It’s not in my primary language. I need to be so prepared to deal with the group. And also, because like you said before, the group is also a metaphor for this day and age and the internet, so how they move and how [they] are opposite each other is also a whole storyline by itself. The group is a character.

What we did was we basically rehearsed. Me and Jasper [Wolf] went to the location weeks before and we put people in the places of the actress and we just experimented with different choreographies. [We] really approach it as a dance. And also, because I used to be an actress, I needed to act out everything myself to sort of feel it. I don’t want to ask them things that don’t feel realistic.

Then we had rehearsal time with them. We went through the whole film as if it was a theater play, and we rehearsed on location with them too. It was absolutely wonderful because my DP and I prepared so well that when they were there, we could actually be open to their ideas and where they wanted to be in the space without losing our own vision. We prepared really well for all of that because you’re right, that is a lot.

And then with the dark, my DP was already involved in a very early stage. When we thought of the hurricane party, when we started to write that into the script, that was also a way to deal with the lights, because if they were prepared for a hurricane, they would have emergency lighting. They would have some flashlights. We needed that to be able to see the characters.

And of course, the iPhone, even though the Wi-Fi is not working, it’s still a source of light, and I thought that was a great metaphor, too. The actors had to literally light each other with their phones, and that really worked too as a sort of a code in how the ensemble would treat each other and take care of each other.

[Interview] Halina Reijn for BODIES BODIES BODIES
BTS of Bodies Bodies Bodies l A24
Even with all the rehearsal and prep time, what was the most difficult scene for you guys to shoot?

Halina Reijn: I really didn’t look forward to the swimming pool scene because I had this idea that I wanted to introduce all the characters in the water. I [approached it] by saying, “They are embryos and we’re in a womb, but of course [laughs] great idea [sarcastically]. The reality of that is super annoying, of course, because they have to be underwater and they’re scared and it’s hard and the camera has to go underwater. You need a whole different team. That was a very intense day.

Then you have the big group scene when they’re all around the pool, and it was still at the beginning. I was a little bit nervous but it turned out great. But those days were heavy. And, of course, all the days with wind and rain. We had wind machines. We didn’t get a permit for the most modern wind machines because the neighborhood was like no. We had to use these wind machines from before the Second World War. So it was all [dramatically re-enacts getting blown around yelling]. They’re also thin. They have no fat anywhere. So they were so cold. It was a lot and then to keep them emotional and, of course, it helped too, with the whole rawness of it all and the intensity of it all. But it was a very high-energy shoot. It took a lot from all of them.

This film has probably one of my favorite soundtracks. What was the process like in hand picking the songs and figuring out the overall auditory soundscape for the film?

Halina Reijn: I wanted to have needle drops. Sometimes there’s also music that you’re not sure [and ask] are they playing this music? Or is this score? So I used some of my friends who are DJs, but mainly Disasterpiece is the name of the composer. The needle drops, I wanted it to be very of the now. Very Gen Z, so I asked the actors to give me [their] playlist and they picked the songs like ‘Daddy as F***.

Charli XCX wrote a song. I collaborated with her. She did the work, but I told her, these are the themes of narcissism and vanity. So she wrote an original track for us, and then working with Disasterpiece was incredible. For me, the most important [thing] was I wanted to take Tiktok music. I want to take the music they listen to and distort it and make it into something artistic. M

My main reference was Run Lola Run, which is a German film where it’s basically like going through this film, and you just hear this techno du du du, and she has no time to reflect. That’s how you see my characters. If they would stand still and reflect for one second, the film would end, right? So I said to him, Listen, we need to make music that is not reflective. It should never be like, Oh, we’re leaning back, like what is going on? It should always just be pumping. Like, Forward, forward forward. They’re going. They’re going. They’re animals. And that is how we approached it.

So we were inspired by Tiktok. We were inspired by Run Lola Run. I really think he’s an insane talent, this Disasterpiece guy, and he was able to capture their worlds but also capture my thing with this whole film. We’re just witnessing. We’re not really given any opinion. We don’t judge these characters. We don’t say he’s the good guy. He’s the bad guy. We just say we don’t know. We’re just present. We’re just with them here.

BODIES BODIES BODIES will have a limited release theatrically on August 5, 2022, before being released nationwide on August 12, 2022.

Sarah Musnicky
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