15th Jul2019

EIFF 2019: ‘Body at Brighton Rock’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Karina Fontes, Casey Adams, Emily Althaus, Miranda Bailey, Martin Spanjers, Matt Peters, Susan Burke, John Getz | Written and Directed by Roxanne Benjamin

body-brighton-rock-poster

Writer-director Roxanne Benjamin makes her feature debut with this slow-burning survival thriller, having previously contributed to horror anthology movies Southbound and XX. Showcasing a command of tension and atmosphere, the film confirms Benjamin as a genre talent to watch.

Set in the fictional Brighton Rock State Park (convincingly played by Idyllwild, California), Body at Brighton Rock begins with rookie ranger Wendy (Karina Fontes) agreeing to swap duties with her friend Maya (Emily Althaus), partly to prove that she’s up to the job of trail maintenance and partly so Maya can flirt with a cute co-worker. Wendy duly hits the mountainous trail, putting up warning signs about bears and the dangers of hiking alone, while bopping happily away to music on her phone. Then disaster strikes – she loses her map and makes her way to a peak, only to send her friends a selfie and have them inform her she’s not where she thinks she is.

Things quickly get worse for Wendy, as the follow-up message is a chilling “Who’s that in the photo behind you?” It turns out that not only is she lost in the wilderness, but there’s a dead body up there with her too. The ranger base inform her that she has to stay with the body in case it’s a crime scene, so an increasingly rattled Wendy prepares to bed in for the night, as it’s getting dark and the rescue team won’t be able to get to her before morning. But is she actually alone? And what are those strange markings on the corpse?

Benjamin is clearly a fan of the slow burn – very little actually happens in the first third of the movie, but by the time Wendy finds the corpse, we’re well aware that she’s taken on a job she’s not really qualified to do. As she herself admits, she’s “more of an indoor person”, and the thought of spending the night in the middle of nowhere with a dead body rightly terrifies her.

Accordingly, the script knows that real-life things that go bump (and rustle and creak and crack) in the woods at night are every bit as frightening as horror movie staples like zombies or ghosts. Benjamin’s trick is to skilfully blend Wendy’s imagined fears with real ones, so we’re often not sure whether what we’re seeing is real, or just all in her head. Either way, Wendy’s fears are entirely relatable and that gives the film a real edge.

It helps that Karina Fontes doesn’t feel like a traditional horror movie final girl. Instead she’s clearly out of her depth, not especially strong-willed or capable, and so accident prone that it skirts dangerously close to black comedy at times. Indeed, by the time she’s accidentally sprayed herself in the face with bear repellent, you start to wonder if the biggest threat to her life isn’t her own clumsiness.

Benjamin does an excellent job of building tension and the pay-off is suitably pulse-quickening, especially if you’ve ever spent any time in bear country. (Let’s just say the three credited bear wranglers earn their keep). Body at Brighton Rock is further heightened by Hannah Getz’ gorgeously colourful cinematography (if the film hits Netflix, Idyllwild will get a serious tourism bump) and a number of fun soundtrack choices, as well as a teasingly giallo-ish score from The Gifted.

***½  3.5/5

Body at Brighton Rock screened at this years Ediburgh International Film Festival

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