Entertainment

Hulu's Dystopian Murder Mystery 'Devs' Is Impossible to Explain, but We'll Try Anyway

Miya Mizuno/FX
Miya Mizuno/FX
Miya Mizuno/FX

It took me a few tries to come up with the proper thing to call Devs, the new limited series written and directed by Alex Garland (AnnihilationEx Machina), and I’m still not sure I got it totally right. It’s a bit of a murder mystery, but also a bit of a tech thriller, and a bit of a muted, though no less soul-crushing, meditation on the nature of time, grief, and whether or not free will is real (and if that even matters). It’s a very weird, very beautiful show, made even weirder by all of the promotional material that has been extremely vague in indicating what you’re getting into if you decide to crack it open. So, what exactly is Devs, and what is Devs, and what is “devs,” anyway?If you’ve been tracking anything about this show at all (or if you just read the paragraph above), you probably already know that the whole thing is directed by Alex Garland, the director of his breakout feature film Ex Machina, about a reverse-engineered Turing test performed on a beautiful artificially intelligent robot, and Annihilation, a loose adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s exceedingly frightening science fiction novel about a group of scientists who venture into a jungle that’s been biologically polluted by a mysterious catastrophic event. Devs marks his first foray into directing television, but taken all together, it feels like simply one long, expanded Alex Garland movie, with new episodes coming out every Thursday on Hulu. It even looks, unmistakably, like an Alex Garland movie, which is thanks to his cinematographer Rob Hardy, whom he worked with on both Ex Machina and Annihilation. Hardy shot every scene with the same misty, filmy look, giving every light source a soft, slightly blurred edge and focusing intently on the greens and yellow-greens in any aspect of verdant, organic nature.

The show is set almost entirely inside a utopian Silicon Valley wet dream of a tech company called Amaya, housed in part inside a modern glass-paneled office building whose windows reflect the vast expanse of forest around it, a 21st century Hanging Gardens of Babylon — though, like the Hanging Gardens, it’s better suited to myth than reality. Employees are bussed in and out from their homes in San Francisco, their offices have high, airy ceilings, and their desks face outward through huge floor-to-ceiling windows, looking upon the grassy lawns and sunny outside dining areas dotted around the company’s campus. Devs, Amaya’s mysterious “development branch,” is a brisk stroll away on a wooden walkway that winds through the kind of old-growth forest you’d expect to see on any brochure of the Pacific coast. 

What Devs is, no one but the Devs employees know — and even they, as you soon come to find out, don’t quite understand what it is they’re doing. In the premiere episode, Lily Chan’s (Sonoya Mizuno, another frequent Garland collaborator) boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) gets a coveted position inside Devs by demonstrating a quantum predictive program that he’s invented, foretelling the random movements of a worm. Forest (Nick Offerman), the enigmatic, shaggy-haired owner of Amaya, shows Sergei around the building that houses Devs, protected by a vacuum moat and an electromagnetic field, but won’t tell him anything about what he’s supposed to be doing there. By the end of the episode, Sergei has disappeared without a trace, prompting Lily (also an employee of Amaya) to infiltrate the company to try to figure out what happened to him, and what it has to do with what’s going on inside Devs. 

Raymond Liu/FX
Raymond Liu/FX
Raymond Liu/FX

To explain what that is would be to spoil the entire thing — and would also be impossible for me to do, since I’m not sure even I understand it. Because this is a Garland product, the show is more than what it seems at the outset: the “plot” becomes somewhat secondary to the show’s true intent, which is a cyclical debate about the structure and purpose of our universe, and whether it can be influenced by the theoretical gajillions of other universes out there. (Because of the philosophical subject matter and the warm, glittery San Francisco setting, Devs feels, at times, like a spiritual successor to the second season of Netflix’s The OA.)

“The universe is deterministic,” Forest intones midway through the first episode. What we see as humanity, or any creature, having free will is actually an enmeshed web of cause and effect — our every action, disguised in our minds as a deliberate choice, is actually inevitable, he explains. The show deliberately obfuscates what’s actually going on for most of the season, but you don’t have to have a degree in quantum computing to understand it, though some scenes throw out sets of coding references and quantum theory terminology at a mind-boggling rate. Like the company campus it’s set in, it invites you inside of its walls with promises of a modern, glowing tech utopia before revealing the frightening heart of what lives deep beneath, warped by the paranoia and obsession of grief-stricken megalomania gone too far. Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.

Entertainment

Why the Shocking Twist in 'Bodies Bodies Bodies' Is So Killer

The A24 horror-comedy has a lot to say about how logged on we are today.

A24
A24
A24

This story contains spoilers about the ending of Bodies, Bodies, Bodies.Even if you’ve tried to game the TikTok algorithm to feed you videos from #fashiontok, #foodtok, or whatever else you might be interested in, when you open the app, you tend to be inundated with a whole lot of discourse. In many ways, it’s incredible how attuned young people are in knowing who they are and how comfortable they are having frank conversations. But in other ways, sometimes it can feel like quick-hit platforms have a tendency to deduce real issues or strip things of their meanings-whether that’s teens self-diagnosing themselves with mental illness, or people labelling musicians as “female or male manipulator artists” without ever listening to their music.

A24’s latest horror comedy Bodies Bodies Bodies (out now in theatres) about a group of 20-somethings partying during a hurricane that turns into a hunt for a killer is like a movie downloaded from the current millennial-Gen-Z cusp moment of the internet we’re in. When the trailer for the movie directed by Halina Reijn and written by Sarah DeLappe, based on a story from “Cat Person” author Kristen Roupenian, dropped earlier this year, it made that very clear. In just over a minute and a half, we hear the cast of cool girl breakouts yelling, “You’re always gaslighting me,” “you fucking trigger me,” “you’re so toxic,” and “you’re silencing me.” Even the movie’s tagline is, “This is not a safe space.”

Bodies Bodies Bodies is very much logged onto millennial/Gen Z social media-isms throughout, from lines hilariously pieced together by the Twitter zeitgeist to scenes featuring TikTok dances. The movie operates on a delectable kind of slasher-movie paranoia, making the audience just as unsure as the slumber party gone wrong with who is killing them off left and right. But given how much of a playful satire it is of contemporary youth culture, it ends up being a twist that feels all but inevitable, and couldn’t be more razor-blade sharp.

A24
A24
A24

Once the torrential downpour stops and the sun comes up, it seems as if Maria Bakalova‘s Bee is about to be our Bodies Bodies Bodies final girl, now that she’s realized how much her relationship with Sophia (Amandla Stenberg) is based on lies. As a test to see how easily Sophie can lie-and therefore deny killing all of her friends from midnight until dawn-Bee asks her if she cheated on her with Myha’la Herrold’s Jordan. It’s a fact that Bee already knows to be true, considering she came across a pair of panties in Sophie’s car that matched a bra she noticed in Jordan’s bag. When Sophie denies it, Bee tries to take her phone (which Jordan admitted would have texts about their recent hook-up on it), and the two start fighting outside in the remnants of the storm. Bee eventually pulls a phone out of the mud, and it looks like the WiFi and cell phone service that was gone all night is finally back. Thinking she’ll pull up the evidence she needs-and confirmation to get the hell out of there-she’s surprised when Sophie says, “That’s not my phone,” and even more surprised to see what’s on it.

It turns out that it belongs to David, Pete Davidson’s coked-out rich kid character whose parents’ house they’re partying at and was the first one to die in the movie. They know it’s David’s phone because it opens to a TikTok, soundtracked by the lockdown classic TikTok song “Bored In The House” by Curtis Roach and Tyga, that shows him waving around his dad’s decorative but very real sword (!) to try to open a champagne bottle (!), idiotically waving it towards himself, only to slice right into his own neck. As it turns out, nobody killed David-not an intruder, not Jordan, not Sophie, not Alice’s (Rachel Sennott) older boyfriend Greg (Lee Pace) she knew nothing about (except for the fact that he was a Libra moon), and not their friend Max (Conner O’Malley) who left early the night before. David accidentally killed himself, and hysteria is what killed everybody else. You could say that it’s almost predictable that it turns out to be a clout-chasing TikTok that led to the movie’s murderous spiral of events. Although, that would undercut what Reijn and DeLappe are trying to say with the darkly funny movie with an especially dark, funny twist. Like TikTok or Twitter, the movie is a constant feed of discourse, buzzwords, and blanket statements that snarkily laugh at and with its ensemble. There are many moments in particular that drive this home-like Alice trying to be sympathetic in talking about mental health, only to make the conversation about her, and David ridiculing his girlfriend Emma (Chase Sui Wonders) for getting all of her thoughts from Twitter after she says he “gaslights” her. On top of that, David picks up the sword and tries to go viral to begin with because his masculinity felt threatened by Greg, who did the trick in the first place.

While it would be downright terrifying if a party with people who are supposedly your best friends turned into a slasher flick, in Bodies Bodies Bodies, the horror isn’t a vengeful or heartless killer. Everybody may become a psychopath of sorts when they feel physically threatened or legitimately toxic name-calling and backstabbing ensues, but Bodies Bodies Bodies and its devilish twist is about the humour and horror in the devoid way we can use social media today more than anything else. Like Sophie and Bee’s terrified realization at the end, it makes you want to log off for awhile… right after you post a 100K-worthy tweet about it.

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment associate editor at Thrillist. She’s on Twitter and Instagram.

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