Body at Brighton Rock (2019)
Release Date: April 26, 2019 (Limited & VOD)
Sometimes, all you need for a minimalist horror thriller to work is a woman and a dead body. Writer-director Roxanne Benjamin uses that simplicity to her advantage in “Body at Brighton Rock,” the up-and-coming filmmaker’s directorial feature debut after contributing segments to horror anthologies, like 2016’s “Southbound” and 2017’s “XX.” More than just bumps in the night, the film is a lo-fi survivalist thriller about self-preservation and the underestimation of a young woman. Never overcomplicating the narrative with subplots or too many extraneous characters, Benjamin seems interested in throwing an underqualified but relatable character into a perilous situation and seeing what could come of it. How effective “Body at Brighton Rock” is certainly depends on how much one is willing to invest in a character who isn’t always competent but gutsy enough to prove everyone wrong.
“It’s just a walk in the woods. How hard can it be?” inexperienced park guide Wendy (Karina Fontes) says when she trades trail assignments, sick of her co-workers not thinking she’s hardy enough for this job. On Wendy goes, posting safety signs on the terrain around Brighton Rock (played by California’s San Jacinto Mountains) and then resting atop a cliff to send selfies to her friend until she realizes she is lost. Her map is gone and her phone battery dies as soon as she needs it most. Then she finds a man’s dead body at the bottom of the cliff. Wendy panics and calls it in on her radio. She does what she’s told, securing the perimeter of what could be a crime scene and wait for the first responders to arrive in the morning. Once night falls, it’s just Wendy and the body, or is someone else out there with them?
Beginning with a postcard-ready credit sequence that segues into Wendy running late to her morning park orientation and Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” bouncing along on the soundtrack, “Body at Brighton Rock” gets off to a fun, light-hearted start. For a while there, the film sets up an involving plight for its protagonist who is out of her depth but might find it in herself to save her skin. Newcomer Karina Fontes depicts Wendy as sincere and identifiable, an everywoman and an “indoor kid” whose preparedness and practiced protocol are tested, proving she might not be well-suited to this job, but then again, finding a dead body wasn’t part of the job description. While some viewers will certainly find her actions frustrating and make Wendy sometimes hard to rally behind, it is more refreshingly human and authentic that Wendy is able to remain resilient even when everyone thinks she is doomed to fail.
“Body at Brighton Rock” does have a deviousness in the direction it takes, and there is an a-ha O. Henry-style conclusion that the film hinges on and mostly earns. And yet, it doesn’t seem willing to fully maximize the nerve-shredding tension of its premise set in the lonesome wilderness, though Wendy’s finding of an abandoned tent when she still has daylight manages to be creepy. It’s a modestly resourceful production, well-shot by cinematographer Hannah Getz, and The Gifted’s giallo-inspired score is also enhanced by some well-used ‘80s jams, including Exposé’s “Point of No Return.” Even if her first feature feels a bit slight when it’s over, Roxanne Benjamin is still a talent worth keeping an eye on to see what she will do next.
Grade: C +