Friday, December 11, 2015

Body: Not a Creature was Stirring, Particularly Not Larry Fessenden

It is sort of like an episode of Girls, but with Larry Fessenden. When three former high school friends break into a McMansion for some Christmas Eve partying, they wind up with some explaining to do in Dan Berk & Robert Olsen’s Body (trailer here), which opens tonight in New York at the IFC Center.

Home for the holidays and slightly stoned, Holly, Cali, and Mel are looking for something to do on a cold Christmas Eve. Cali suggests they kick up their heels in her rich uncle’s pad, because he doesn’t mind her having the run of the place. Holly and Mel agree, even though there is something funny about her story (they’re stoned, remember). After a little breaking and entering (seriously, he won’t mind), they hit the rec room hard. Eventually, Holly has the sense to ask why there are so many pictures of an Asian family on the wall.

It turns out there is no rich uncle. Cali used to babysit for the owners years ago and knew they would be away for the holidays. As this uncomfortable truth sinks in, the girls are surprised by the creepy caretaker. Things get a bit confused, resulting in his apparently fatal accident. With no legal justification for their presence there, the three friends need to get their stories straight, but the circumstances and resulting moral dilemmas keep getting more complicated.

The good news for Larry Fessenden fans is he has a new genre film. The bad news is he spends nearly the entire time flat on his back. Still, let’s just say he has his moments. Nevertheless, the relationship between the three twentysomething women really forms the heart of the film. Berk & Olsen take a fair amount of time to establish their complex relationships somewhere along the continuum between friends and frienemies. Viewers get the sense they have long histories together and are used to being around each other, even if their feelings are a bit ambiguous. There is also something vicariously enjoyable about watching them run amok in that swanky pad.

Inevitably, matters take a dark turn and get progressively darker, but Body is more closely akin to a claustrophobic stage-thriller than a horror movie. Helen Rogers anchors the film quite effectively as Holly, who passes for the film’s voice of reason and the closest thing it has to a conscience, whereas on the other hand, Alexandra Turshen clearly enjoys getting the film’s best opportunities for scenery chewing and most pointed lines as the mildly sociopathic Cali (hey, nobody’s perfect).

Oddly, Body feels a bit restrained, especially with Fessenden along for the ride, but it vividly captures the weird vibe of being somewhere rather isolated during a time of collective celebration, like the holidays. It is a clever and aesthetically economical dark thriller, recommended for genre fans when it opens tonight (12/11) at the IFC Center.