It says something, not only about the state of cinema but also our priorities, when we’re able to see a movie starring Pete Davidson called Bodies Bodies Bodies in multiple local theaters but are forced to view the new installment of the Predator franchise on a streaming service that’s primarily a hub for network TV repeats. This is a reversal of a common complaint. Typically, cineastes decry the lack of original films in theaters and the slate of sequels and franchise garbage that studios offer year after year, but I’d say that none of the current run of original films—Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, Bullet Train, Nope—demands the same interest as a film about 18th-century Native-Americans fighting Predator.
If I consider paying to see Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, it’s not because I want to but because it might be fun to critically eviscerate. It’s exactly the kind of entertainment I expect a studio like A24 to market to young, upwardly mobile people: aspirational influencer lifestyle porn masquerading as some sort of satirical skewering of the “safe space generation.” The fact that I’ve aged out of the film’s key demo by a couple of years doesn’t prevent me from feeling insulted by A24’s marketing on their behalf (tagline: “This is not a safe space”), the way in two minutes’ time it attempts to seduce them with half-naked, airbrushed versions of themselves and alternately dismisses them as vapid, buzzword-abusing narcissists.
It occurs to me that Zoomers may not be the target audience for Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, that as much as the film may attract self-aware twentysomething hipsters, its real audience is aging Millennials and Gen-Xers who’re entertained by the idea of woefully sheltered young people and their safe spaces, the kind of audience whose idea of a funny joke is a character, in response to another saying she’s been shot, screaming, “I can’t believe you’re making this about you!” Outside of Twitter (and Ezra Miller’s compound), no one actually talks like this; if it’s satire, it’s about as subtle as the film’s glowstick heavy mise-en-scène.
I’m dancing around the fact that I haven’t seen Bodies, Bodies, Bodies and judging it solely on the basis of its trailer. This is true but with one essential caveat: I’ve seen many of A24’s recent releases, most of which are marketed to college-educated liberals in their 30s like myself, and which tend to exploit the anxieties and insecurities of that demographic and pander to their comfort zones.
X, for example, a modest success for A24 both critically and commercially, is explicitly premised around the horror of aging, and its most major shocks rely on the presupposition that there’s nothing more grotesque than naked old people, whose grunt-filled copulation is clearly intended as an occasion for both disgust and excited giggles. By contrast, the lithe, nude young porn actors are bathed in the pseudo-natural light of luxury SUV commercials, shiny objects of envy for both the elderly couple and the viewer. I felt I was supposed to view the young people as beautiful and the old people as ugly, yet the more the film concentrated on the couple’s (especially the woman’s) grotesquerie, the more I found myself rooting for them. Is this because as I get older I identify less with the young beautiful people and more with the old grotesques? Possibly, but I think it’s more a rejection of the film’s uncomplicated veneration of youth, the way it conflates youth and beauty in a way that’s meant to flatter members of the 25-39 demo while also playing on insecurities about getting old.
Even if X were legible as ironic commentary on Hollywood’s callous attitude toward women over 40, which it isn’t, it’d still be too mean-spirited to be effective, something I can’t say for Everything Everywhere All at Once, no matter what else is wrong with it. It does attempt some metafictional commentary on its aging star (Michelle Yeoh) to varying degrees of success, eschewing the cruel nihilism of X and committing to a painfully familiar and sincere central narrative revolving around generational crisis in the Asian diaspora—you know, like Crazy Rich Asians, or The Farewell, or basically any other American movie with a mostly Asian cast. The Daniels (the pair of directors who somehow aren’t embarrassed to call themselves that) try to make up for the lack of any real subversiveness with a multiverse plot, apparently forgetting that it’s not 2012 anymore and at this point the multiverse has been done almost as much as the Asian “tiger mom” or arch-conservative grandmother. The film flatters its audience, not by telling them they’re young and beautiful like X, but by telling them they’re cultured for knowing who Michelle Yeoh is and smart for appreciating this stale epic bacon nerd shit.
I guess audiences don’t mind, since it’s A24’s biggest hit. This has little to do with the film’s quality, which is competent but not particularly impressive, and everything to do with A24’s marketing department, which utilizes social media apps like Instagram to promote their films better than any other studio. Unsurprisingly, the films themselves have taken on the glossy digital sheen of Instagram posts, containing nothing even resembling film as we once knew it.
If I sound bitter, it’s because the gray goo of digital photography extends far beyond A24, who, in all fairness, use film more than most studios. When I abandon the idea to go to the theater and instead settle in to watch Prey, I notice it’s full of CGI and UHD trademarks (wide shots of the sky, unnaturally smooth overhead drone shots, lens flare). Et tu, Predator?