“Body” (2015): Dishonesty, Death, and Bad Decisions Collide in a Lean, Mean Holiday Suspenser

After watching the Christmas-set thriller Body, you may just want to stay at home with your friends and loved ones during the holiday season rather than going out while under the influence of alcohol and drugs to seek mischief. Hopefully you would have made such a decision even without seeing this taut film, an effort that provides enough suspense to warrant adding it to your already busy December to-do list.

We meet main characters and good friends Holly (Helen Rogers), Cali (Alexandra Turshen), and Mel (Lauren Molina) as they enjoy an evening at Mel’s family home on December 23rd. The young women are all in their early twenties and are unwinding with wine and Scrabble before smoking pot, overeating, and then deciding, at Cali’s insistence, to go partying elsewhere.

Left to right: Christmas for Cali (Alexandra Turshen), Holly (Helen Rogers), and Mel (Lauren Molina) has just taken a turn for the worst in Body. All photos courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Cali tells her friends that her vacationing uncle lives nearby in a swank home where they can hang out undisturbed, and the digs are impressive indeed, complete with high-end sports cars, a home video game arcade, and a fully stocked liquor cabinet. It seems to perceptive Holly, however, that Cali may not have been telling the truth about everything. A stranger’s voice suddenly calls out from downstairs and the girls make a panicked decision to escape. Unfortunately the stranger (Larry Fessenden in a performance that I can’t say too much about unless I go into spoilers, which I won’t, but most readers know that his is a trustworthy name in genre films) blocks the trio’s path and in a mere matter of moments, the lives of all four people are changed forever.

Body does a nice job of letting viewers get to know its three main characters, spending most of its first 23 minutes doing just that. Timewise this is a bit problematic, though, in that the film runs just under 69 minutes before the closing credits roll. As a matter of fact, it takes about 12 minutes before the trio arrives at the tony house and then another 11 minutes before the tension starts. Still, when things do get rolling, the trio’s personalities have been established and we have an idea of what we might expect from them individually.

Cali (Alexandra Turshen) lies to her friends about the house where they go to party and then cooks up bigger falsehoods when the trio finds itself in a seemingly hopeless situation.

The story idea of  normal people in a sudden, perilous quandary isn’t wholly original but writers-directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen do an impressive job of avoiding the pitfalls and cliches of films in this vein. They weave a well-calculated, well-shot tale showing how fragile the fabric of friendship can be when preservation of self and, to an extent, family members, is at stake – how one incident and one follow-up decision can disrupt the present and affect virtually all aspects of someone’s future. The ideas suggested and decisions made by the trio of friends are sometimes puzzling but avoid the outright stupid. Berk and Olsen keep the predicaments exciting and interesting both with their screenplay and their direction, and I was thoroughly invested in if and how the friends would get through their situation. My main complaint about the screenplay would be that  the dialogue, especially in the first act, sometimes comes off a bit thin and some minor characters feel a little like padding. (One very minor quibble: If you’re a continuity stickler, don’t watch the clocks in Mel’s home.) The main trio’s character arcs are cleverly executed and well developed, though. The ladies get put through a ringer and no one goes unscathed.

The main draw of Body is the acting by the three leads.  Their accomplished performances keep the proceedings realistic, gritty, and believable. Helen Rogers as the vulnerable Holly, Alexandra Turshen as manipulative alpha female Cali, and Lauren Molina as the reserved, wavering Mel are fun to watch as tension mounts and things get more and more complicated. There isn’t a lot of blood but there are some violent scenes, as well as one scene in particular that most viewers will find cringe inducing, no matter how jaded from watching horror films they might be.

Mel (Lauren Molina) and Holly (Helen Rogers) watch matters escalate as they witness events they never dreamed they would have to go through.

Body opens theatrically in the United States on December 11th and on VOD on December 29th. I enjoyed this suspenseful yarn from newcomers Dan Berk and Robert Olsen and recommend the film as an impressive low-budget debut with an engaging young cast.

Body: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


Body poster

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.