BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK (2019)
Directed by Roxanne Benjamin
Written by Roxanne Benjamin
Starring Karina Fontes, Casey Adams, Emily Althaus, Miranda Bailey, Martin Spanjers, Matt Peters, Susan Burke, John Getz, Brodie Reed, John F. Beach
Find out more about this film here
Filmmaker Roxanne Benjamin (who produced much of the V/H/S films and directed a segment in the XX anthology) offers up her first directorial feature with BODY A BRIGHTON ROCK, a boppy, fun, and surprising take on getting lost in the woods.
Constantly showing up late, low in confidence, and often quite clumsy, Wendy (Karina Fontes) is not one of the forest rangers who instills much faith from her peers and superiors. When she is fed up with being handled with kid gloves, she takes an assignment posting flyers deep in the trails of the heavily forested park she works at. Because of one wrong turn and a lack of knowledge of the environment, Wendy finds herself lost, but that is the least of her worries when she happens upon a dead body at the bottom of a ravine. Not knowing where she is or what to do and it being too late in the day for a rescue party to be sent out, Wendy has to muster up the courage and the little training she knows in order to survive the night. But what about the noises in the forest or the bears or the creepy gut she starts seeing through the dense foliage?
While this is an intriguing concept, the fact that the entire movie focuses on one character makes everything ride on the performance of Fontes as Wendy. And while I think Fontes has a strong career in front of her, we really don’t get to know enough about her (other than the fact that she is horribly unprepared for something like this and likes to listen to 80’s pop tunes). I think that Fontes does decently in the scenes requiring emotion, but for some reason, I just didn’t know if I liked her at all enough to care if she lived or died on this hike. Thinking about it, I realized it was because I don’t think this film did enough to highlight what there was to like about Wendy prior to her predicament. Instead the film moves rather briskly into the action of Wendy wandering off and becoming distraught in the woods, rather than giving the viewer a few minutes to understand why her friends like her despite her incapability to do her job. A simple scene of Wendy talking on the phone with a loved one might have given us something for the viewer to grasp onto before the conflict of the film begins.
That said, Benjamin does a great job of capturing the wonderous landscape and offering up some truly scary scenes once Wendy is lost. While there are a few dream sequences that felt a bit like overkill, the threat of the woods and danger of the darkness around Wendy really is communicated well here.
The way BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK ends is going to be a deal breaker for some, but I felt it is one of the strongest aspects of the film itself. The way Benjamin wraps things up is definitely going to spark some debate while making more literal thinkers scratch a hole in their heads. I like the ambiguity of the ending and I think it really does save this film from being a typical woman vs. nature story. There’s a lot to like about BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK despite some issues I had with the way the lead character was written. While there felt like some character missteps were made at the beginning in terms of Wendy’s character, Benjamin has crafted a strong tale of the horrors of nature and it will be interesting to see what this filmmaker has in store for us all in the future given this strong first effort.