Social media fuels the performative interactions of a 20-something in Halina Reijn’s “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” but beneath their constructed personas, anxiety, fear, and jealousy fester. These intense feelings were at the forefront of cinematographer Jasper Wolf’s mind, who wanted his expansive lighting choices to underscore each “new round of emotional boxing.”
The movie A24 stars Maria Bakalova as Bee, a young working-class woman who accompanies her new girlfriend Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) to a hurricane party thrown by Sophie’s ultra-rich friends. After a murder-in-the-dark game goes awry when someone is dead for real, the toxic group rekindles old grudges and descends into fierce paranoia.
Much of the action takes place at night after the power and Wi-Fi have been cut.
While remaining grounded in plausibility, Wolf wanted alternative light sources to accent the “obvious” flashlights and camping lanterns. “We were mostly interested in maybe emotional realism or illusionary realism, that the color of the light might give you an extra thrill or an extra sense [of the characters],” he says. Party girl Alice (Rachel Sennott) drapes herself in glow stick jewelry, while type-A Jordan (Myha’la Harrold) opts for an LED headlamp. Laid-back Greg (Lee Pace) even dons a mask of vibrant blue light therapy.
Ubiquitous phone flashlights harness the film’s hyper-online quality as Gen Zers sift their barbs through social media buzzwords. The screens have maximum brightness which exposes their faces in the dark. Wolf notes how this style of lighting emulates the flash of a camera: “It may also be something we know online. [when] you take selfies.
The Chappaqua McMansion represented another opportunity to add color. Wolf worked with production designer April Lasky to install surreal backup lights and to ensure that each piece had a distinct visual identity that could tie into the characters’ involuntary emotional states. “The kitchen is a good example for the first time where there is this distrust within the group,” says Wolf. “We play a lot in the cyan colors, in the blue-green colors, where they start to turn against each other a bit.” Later, a moment of explosive violence in an indoor basketball court shatters the red of an exit sign.
“Bodies Bodies Bodies” marks Wolf’s second collaboration with Reijn after his feature debut, “Instinct.” The Dutch duo prepared extensively by first choreographing on location with stand-ins, giving Reijn a base to then let things loosen up and make room for improvisation during filming. Wolf operated the handheld camera and shot intuitively, letting the camera “sometimes behave like one of the characters in the band”.
Achieving this freedom in the film’s many shots and large set movements required a flexible lighting approach. “Part of the concept of having actors lighting up – say, Jordan’s headlight or flashlights – that also gave us anchors in a scene that we could play the lighting design of,” Wolf says. .
The DP originally had the idea to shoot on film, but the tight production schedule required a different approach. He first did trial shots on film, then worked with colorist Damien van der Cruyssen to grade them and create a color profile that could be incorporated into his camera of choice, the Arri Alexa. Mini LF. “The reason the large format was instrumental in this film is simply that there is so much darkness, and I knew I wanted to be free in that darkness,” Wolf explains. “I also liked the look of how black behaves and how textures can survive. Even when I pushed it a lot, it still had that clean aesthetic in the rough that we were looking for.
As the group’s mistrust intensifies, the lighting becomes increasingly fractured. A pivotal moment in Bee and Sophie’s relationship takes place in a claustrophobic sauna, which Wolf says “is hands down one of the smallest places I’ve ever shot in.” He captured the scene with “two super minimal amounts of lights”, including a small flashlight he was balancing in his hands next to the camera.
Wolf adds, “We were toying with the idea that it got darker and darker in the movie. At one point, the light almost disappeared.