James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James C. Clay // Film Critic
BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK
Fun and inconsequential, BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK has rising star director, Roxanne Benjamin (SOUTHBOUND), operating on her own terms as a filmmaker. She rises to the occasion with a VHS aesthetic that winds up becoming something a little bit deeper than the dollar tree thrills that were promised. The most pleasing part about Benjamin’s film debut is the material isn’t treated as a hallowed story; this a horror film that’s looking to have fun with minimalism. Sometimes all you need to create tension is a crackling branch and a young woman who is out of her element.
This is the kind of film that was made for Netflix and could have had the potential to get millions of eyeballs on this 88-minute jaunt of a film. However, the film is available now to rent on VOD platforms and will generate some buzz in the horror community; it’s just a bit daunting it went up against AVENGERS:ENDGAME last weekend. The good news is this is perfect counter-programming and would be a nice palette cleanser. Luckily, for the filmmakers of BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK, the woods are a place rife for danger and letting the mind slip into dark places. Benjamin eagerly capitalizes on this with simplicity.
Wendy (Karina Fontes) is a rookie (part-time) park tour guide at the fictional Brighton Rock State Park. She’s looking to expand her responsibilities at the park, but can’t’ seem to arrive at the daily safety meeting on time. She’s too busy jamming out to ’80s new wave music to be bothered with punctuality. This peppy tone persists through the first act of the film as we are put into Wendy’s perspective.
After trading duties with best friend Maya (Emily Althaus), who wants to work the information desk to get her flirt on, Wendy is sent around the park to put up flyers warning patrons to beware of snakes and bears. Even though Wendy is not qualified to make this run, she pops in her headphones and gleefully dances through the trail enjoying the alone time. Before long, things take a turn – she’s lost, without a map, low on battery and her GPS isn’t working, and on top of that she finds a dead body. This is your 2019 nightmare come to life. Low on survival skills and resources, we now have some horror on our hands.
You can tell Benjamin likes to the play both sides of the horror genre. The joy of youthful recklessness has come to life in Wendy, and then the next minute that same carelessness could cost her life. When Wendy gets back in touch with her base camp (via walkie), there’s a man on the other end who chastises her decision-making, providing contradictory advice to get her out of the situation. But he’s ineffective and tells her to wait overnight. This is a clever bit of writing from Benjamin, who, if you listen close, reflects on how men and those in charge can be so quick to blame the young woman for getting lost. Fontes’ performance trudges some sticky situations, yet she never plays Wendy as a character who is outright dumb – just ill-suited for this particular job.
As the night goes on, the pace slows down. We are only left with Wendy’s thoughts, which start to trudge into some eerie territories. We have no idea if the dead body is left from a crime scene, or if the camper just fell down. But we do know there is a strangely nice looking man named Red (Casey Adams) lurking in the woods looking to offer Wendy assistance.
For a film as fun as BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK, it feels like Benjamin was holding herself back a bit with her visual style. There is room for this filmmaker to grow and she has a few projects lined up, including the remake of the 1984 cult film NIGHT OF THE COMET. There’s really no limit where her career could go, and it would be a shame to discount such a filmmaker in this stage of her career.