Body at Brighton Rock is a unique horror film in that nearly nothing actually horrific happens in it. And yet, the film can be terrifying to an extreme. A movie that plays more on fear than it does on actual scares is a rare bird, but that’s basically what Brighton Rock is about. It’s the kind of horror film that busts the genre up that SXSW is so good at finding (think Hereditary or You’re Next).
I think, just like those film’s directors, Brighton Rock‘s director/writer, Roxanne Benjamin, is going to be coming up big in the genre and out of it as well. As long as she can stick to her best instincts and steer away from the few hiccups the film contains.
Body at Brighton Rock
Director: Roxanne Benjamin
Release Date: April 26, 2019
Body at Brighton Rock kicks off almost like a teen rom-com, with a festive font from national parks post-cards and our heroine, Wendy (Karina Fontes), running to her job as a park ranger at Brighton Rock Park. It’s the kind of job kids get for the summer, clearing up trails and showing off rocks and wildlife to youngsters. Wendy is one of the least qualified to do the job and so stays off the more complex trails, until one day, challenged by friends, she takes the sign hanging job and goes off, proceeding to get totally lost and finding a dead body lying in the woods. She radios in for help, but no one can help her until the morning, and so starts a long night guarding a dead body in the middle of the woods with bears all around.
The thing about Brighton Rock is that there’s nothing about Brighton Rock. There’s no ghost story or evil zombies. There’s no one creeping around in the woods. It’s just Wendy and this body. Yes, there are bears in the woods but the danger is nothing greater than what it would be without the body there. Yet, the film plays with this fear. The movie’s scares come from the fear of the unknown that we all share. Instead of being scared of something we are scared of nothing right alongside Wendy. Is that guy she meets a killer or just a guy? Was that noise a bear or just a branch? Did the body just movie? It’s an incredible take for a horror movie to play with, and as the night wears on and Wendy’s fears get greater and greater things start spiraling out of control in clever ways.
I just wish the director held it together like this for the entire film. As the film comes to its conclusion it brings in an actual thing to be afraid of. This could be excused as a bit of trickery as the attack happens after Wendy has let her guard down, but it feels like a cop-out for a movie that played with inner fears so well just moments before. Stack on top of this a slight, but needless, twist at the end and you’re stuck with a feeling like Benjamin didn’t commit all the way to her idea.
However, when Brighton Rock is working on its themes it works them so well. Benjamin creates a wide-open open atmosphere that at the same time feels claustrophobic. There are haunting shots that build tension simply because of their nothingness. Slow pans full of fear, but without anything actually causing it. She trains her camera at little details like Wendy’s feet that bring us into a stark relationship with what is nearly the only character on the screen. The whole thing is buoyed by a performance from Fontes that could have been stronger but is good enough to keep a movie almost entirely focused on her still going.
Body at Brighton Rock isn’t a perfect film, and it, unfortunately, loses its drive in the end with a conclusion that almost feels separate from the rest of the film. But there’s something special in there that makes it work and that makes me want to see more feature films from Benjamin.