Thursday, May 2, 2019

Movie Review: Body at Brighton Rock

Body at Brighton Rock *** / *****
Directed by: Roxanne Benjamin.
Written by: Roxanne Benjamin.
Starring: Karina Fontes (Wendy), Casey Adams (Red), Emily Althaus (Maya), Miranda Bailey (Sandra), Martin Spanjers (Davey), Matt Peters (Kevin), Susan Burke (Coroner), John Getz (Sheriff), Brodie Reed (Craig).
Although Body at Brighton Rock is her debut feature, I was already a fan of writer/director Roxanne Benjamin, based on her segment of the omnibus horror film Southbound (and less so of her segment of the other omnibus horror film XX – which was stylish, but empty). She’s got the chops of a great horror filmmaker in a way that calls to mind the films of the 1980s, without it becoming an empty throwback to those days. Body at Brighton Rock is not great film – from a number of reasons – but it confirms Benjamin’s talent, and makes me really want to see what’s next for her.
The film’s opening credit sequence may be my favorite sequence of the film – a kind of perfect tribute to low rent, 1980s horror films that immediately makes you think of the films of John Carpenter, or at least the best of the recent films aping his style – Adam Wingard’s The Guest. It’s a cheque that the rest of the movie can never quite cash – because this really isn’t an exploitation movie in any way, or even a very violent one. The style is at once instantly recognizable and done well, but somewhat at odds with the content. Benjamin will settle that style down – at least for long stretches – but it’s such a rush to see her do it so well, I really want to see her really do a 1980s style slasher film – with her own take on it of course.
What Body at Brighton Rock is really about though is a survival tale about Wendy (Karina Fontes) – a young woman, a part time park ranger, who usually works the entrance gate or gift shop – or with children’s groups – who wants to prove something to her park ranger friends who thinks she couldn’t hack it as a real ranger – as someone really out there in the wilderness. So she switches job with her friend for the day, and heads out onto the trail – her job is to replace all of those brightly colored signed you see stapled to things in parks that we always ignore. But Wendy, well, she isn’t really good at this hiking thing, and eventually when she scales a peak and takes a selfie to share with her friends, she figures out she isn’t where she thinks she is. Even more disturbingly however, in the background of her selfie, she notices a dead body. She radios it in – and is told she’ll have to spend the night out there. Things will not go well.
It was smart of Benjamin to establish early on that Wendy is not much of an outdoorsman – it helps to make some of things she does seem believable, like when she loses her maps, or the moment where she sees another man, living this time, hovering of the body and is so scared of being seen that she does something that not only gets her immediately noticed, but also gives away her position. It helps that newcomer Fontes is never less than charming in the role – she isn’t portrayed as dumb, just as ill-equipped for what she has to do – which, if you’re someone like me, who would be even more ill-equipped, is relatable.
The film only runs about 87 minutes, and Benjamin probably has to pad things to get it to that runtime. You spend a surprising amount of time setting everything up in the daylight – and then that creepy encounter with Red, which you cannot shake, but also don’t quite know what to make of until the end. There’s also a quite a few fake-outs throughout the film – a dripping bag for instance, or all those moments when she thinks something is happening that isn’t. And the ending comes right out of left field.
And yet, all of that is part of its charm. I think Benjamin knows what she’s doing here – she’s making a low budget film, that is a riff on low budget films, and gives us everything you think you could want and more. It’s fun little movie – you won’t remember it for long after you’ve seen it, and its best not to think too hard while watching it – but it shows promise and skill, and is an entertaining way to spend 87 minutes. And I don’t think its ambitions were any higher than that.

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