For Document, the actor talks scream queens, trauma bonding, and the particularities of Gen Z horror
Covered in fake blood and real mud, Chase Sui Wonders is defenseless at the center of an artificial hurricane. Rain machines spurt water from above, wind turbines blast violent gusts of air from all directions, and crew members chuck sticks at the actor and her castmates. The fear induced by a real natural disaster may not be present, but the replication of one comes with its own types of terrors. Wonders describes filming A24’s Bodies Bodies Bodies as warlike; it induced a sense of camaraderie amongst its cast that can only come from shared trauma.
Horror isn’t generally noted for its relatability. In fact, audiences are often overwhelmed by the genre’s lack of it, which elicits thoughts like, Are you fucking dumb? Or, I would just [insert normal reaction here, like calling the police or running away, instead of actively searching for a killer or whatever dumb thing the blonde girl is attempting to do as mascara smears at a rapid pace across her face]. Bodies finds relatability not in its plot—which watches a group of twentysomethings and one fortysomething indulge in a Mafia-esque game, which quickly becomes too real—but in its uniquely terrible characters who feel all too familiar.
Though the internet is largely absent from Bodies, as a storm cuts their wifi early on, its characters are inseparable from its influence. Their carefully constructed woke vocabularies act in opposition to the careless evil of their actions—a staple of web culture. It’s a modernized take on the scream queen, blending the character nuance of Heathers with the cultural commentary of Lord of the Flies and the violent anxiety of slasher films. “These girls aren’t just screaming—they’re behaving badly,” Wonders explains.
The actor joins Document to discuss the joy of playing an unlikable character, bonding with castmates in a nightmare soup, and why she will never suggest a game Mafia again (but will always win).
Megan Hullander: A lot of your recent work has been centered in explorations of Gen Z: Bodies, Generation, Betty. Is it a generation you identify with?
Chase Sui Wonders: I thought it was a reach for me, when I did Generation. The 17 and 18-year-olds that I’m friends with are constantly calling me ‘cringe,’ so how am I supposed to embody these people? But as caked as it is with new language and social media, I think there is a core angst and sense of youthful dislocation that’s universally relatable. What I played in Generation and what I played in Bodies felt like two totally different subsets. You just have to find specificities; it’s hard to encapsulate an entire generation.
Megan: Bodies was so character-driven, and the characters are sort of introduced with their flaws. Did you like your character at all?
Chase: Emma is deeply repressed. What’s really fascinating to me is the war Emma is concealing inside, versus the very outward-presenting front she feels in her friend group, and the ‘perfect girlfriend’ [image] she wants. Halina Reijn, the brilliant director, was always referencing Ophelia—a classic, tragic character who’s silently suffering. She’s in a very deeply, deeply toxic relationship, kind of by her own choosing. It’s a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome, masochism—all those delicious complexes baked into one.
It’s actually really fun to play someone who can be laughed at. It’s like when you can laugh at yourself in the moment when you do something. I feel like we’re doing all these characters on their worst days. And when I think back to my worst days, I’m like, Oh my god. Horrible, horrible behavior, Chase. As Chase the actor, it’s fun to embody those things. It’s fun to feel in on the joke of your character.
“I love women in film who have this sort of mania—women on the brink of something dark and cataclysmic.”
Megan: Did you ever feel scared on set? Or is it hard to, with all the people and cameras around?
Chase: No, it’s actually really scary. Like, that scene where Pete [Davidson] is yelling at me, Emma’s character felt really scary to inhabit. I felt really trapped in my body. And then on top of that, you’re covered in blood and mud and there are these wind turbines blasting at you, people are throwing sticks at you. It’s rain machines above you and you’ve been a nocturnal beast for five weeks. All you’re doing is working in that environment and going to sleep in a dusty, dank motel, and then waking up and doing it all over again. I think all of us had nightmares. I would go to sleep dreaming about the film. It’s just like one long nightmare. That being said, there was so much joy. It kind of felt like war. There was this sense of camaraderie, [because] we were all dropping into this collective nightmare soup.
Megan: Horror has historically been a bit unkind, and not so nuanced, in its depiction of female characters. Do you think that’s something that’s changing? How do you think this film felt different from the history of the genre?
Chase: I think it totally adds another dimension. The term ‘scream queen’ has been tossed around so much, but I feel like there’s a certain irony [to it] in Bodies, because these girls aren’t just screaming—they’re behaving badly. They’re contradicting themselves. The whole film is about these granular character details that become chaotic monsters. I think that’s so fresh. It’s not just a damsel in distress. There’s so much color. So much [of that is] due to the writer, Sarah DeLappe, being a playwright. I feel she has such a lock on splaying open the brains of these girls. It’s really about the girls, at the end of the day. We got Pete and we got Lee [Pace], but the dynamics between the girls feel so singular.
I watched this movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s this super talky horror movie, but it has that same kind of pacing. Elizabeth Taylor is a woman on the verge of manic breakdown. I love women in film who have this sort of mania—women on the brink of something dark and cataclysmic.
Megan: Are there things you think horror can do as a genre that might not be as accessible for other types of film?
Chase: You’re catching people on their worst worst days. Their decision-making skills are compromised, and [you see their] most primal fight or flight feelings. In this situation, you have this friend group with this whole shared history that would—if this cataclysmic event had never happened—probably continue being fake friends. But because it does happen, the truth comes to pass.
Megan: Did you find that, because it was a bit remote, you became closer with the cast more quickly than you might normally?
Chase: You’re not going home. You’re never like, ‘Bye, guys.’ You’re going to a motel where there are four other people—and you’re bonded in your trauma. When you first meet your cast, it’s like you’re sniffing each other out. But by day two, we were lying on each other, staring into each other’s eyes, throwing up blood-curdling screams. There’s no other choice but to be super close.
“I have to face my fears for the rest of my life. I used to be the girl who’s like, ‘Should we play Mafia?’ Never doing that again. I’m not that girl anymore. I’ve changed.”
Megan: Did you play the game at all?
Chase: I always get so competitive. And it’s horrible. It’s a really dangerous game to play with any group of people. We all played it as an icebreaker, which was intense as a group of actors who are masters at lying.
Megan: Will you be able to play again, or has filming Bodies ruined it for you?
Chase: Unfortunately, my entire family loves to play. I have to face my fears for the rest of my life. I used to be the girl who’s like, ‘Should we play Mafia?’ Never doing that again. I’m not that girl anymore. I’ve changed.
Megan: Do you think you’re a more suspicious player because of your work?
Chase: Do I think that people are like, She must be lying because she’s an actress?
Chase: It’s such a different muscle. But it’s the performance of a lifetime, because when I’m playing with my close family members, they are scanning me up and down to see if there are any glitches in the matrix.
Hair Ben Skervin. Make-up Gita Bass.