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“BODY” (Stanley Film Festival Review)

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With contemporary horror, the approach by many filmmakers in the independent and studio system is that to please hardcore fright fans, they have to go for broke. By heightening so many aspects of a film, from gory SFX to the body count to the stylized visuals of the film, these filmmakers guarantee somewhat of a target audience to appreciate their film, even if the story can’t stand on its own merit. But there’s almost an equal amount of filmmakers who subscribe to the “less is more” mentality, although many find this as a way to pad out their budgets and push the limitations of the term “slow burn.” Yet for some horror filmmakers, simplicity is a weapon: by cutting out the bullshit, you keep the options of the filmmakers and the characters limited, which creates an intense, almost claustrophobic atmosphere to the film and leads to some incredibly intimate interpersonal drama.

In the case of BODY, directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen understand the value of simplicity, making a lean and mean thriller out of a captivating premise. For the unfamiliar, BODY follows three young women who are stuck in a horrifying dilemma when an accident puts them face to face with a dead body. It’s a simple concept, but one that works: blame, consequence and desperation run through these women, and as time and ideas dwindle, they’re pushed to the edge of their moral compass. Of course, things get bloodier and more complicated, but all in all, BODY is a brisk and compelling tale of tension filled with top tier performances and a natural “what would you do?” sense of voyeurism.

While BODY never quite engages in spectacle (even if the film sports a stylish moment once in a while), the film does an incredible job at building three-dimensional normal characters who we can get familiar with and even grow fond of before sending them into their own private hell. In doing so, BODY slyly sets up the stakes of the film and creates an air of levity while simultaneously setting up a misdirect, and by the time the film begins to reveal the first surprises, the film quickly escalates to the titular problem. And from there, BODY sports a mischievous grin, putting the audience through an uncomfortable process that only becomes more and more inhumane by every proceeding twist and turn.

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BODY is quite a clever, borderline traumatic and unsettling film, but it’s not a perfect film either. At a little over 74 minutes, the main narrative of the film doesn’t even clear the 70 minute mark, and there are plenty of scenes that likely could have used more exploration. A subplot regarding one of the girls’ boyfriends is almost dismissed as quickly as it is introduced, and the big scene between the two could have been mined for suspense much more than it does. Likewise, the ending of the film feels almost a bit too close knit and tidy for the scenario provided, and a more subversive outcome might have felt a bit more satisfying considering half the film is devoted to the lead-up. And there are a few characters in the first act whose introduction is never quite recalled, which makes the opening scene oddly out-of-sync to the rest of the film.

But for all those weaknesses, BODY makes up in terms of genuinely great storytelling, anchored by a quartet of genuinely amazing performances. V/H/S actress Helen Rogers is the closest thing to a protagonist that the film has and delivers nothing short of excellence, selling her moments of genuine regret just as well as her moments of upsetting desperation. Likewise, relative newcomer Alexandra Turshen is phenomenal as the more deceptive of the trio, and her moments of rage and resolve are simultaneously frightening and fierce. Lauren Molina is also quite impressive as the most conflicted of the three, offering a quieter and more physically nuanced performance as the indecisive- and underestimated- friend caught in the middle. And one can’t forget Larry Fessenden as the ostensible body in question, who delivers an incredibly great and surprisingly sympathetic performance without giving away too much.

With BODY, Berk and Olsen prove that they can subscribe to a simple yet novel genre concept and push it to its limits with ultimately disturbing and riveting results. Their work in the film is both indicative of a strong actors’ director and that of an adept technical filmmaker, with their pairing appearing to meld the best of both worlds. And if BODY is an indication of what the two can do with a most basic human fear- that of tragic circumstance- in 70+ minutes, one can only hope fright fans will be able to see their potential fulfilled even further in bigger and better things.

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BODY will be playing on Saturday, May 2nd, and Sunday, May 3rd, at the 2015 Stanley Film Festival. For times and tickets, you can visit the official Stanley Film Festival website here.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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