Roxanne Benjamin has made a name for herself in horror with anthology spots in Southbound, V/H/S, and most recently in the all female-directed The XX. Now, Benjamin uses nature to get under your skin with her new film Body at Brighton Rock. Written and directed by Benjamin, Body at Brighton Rock is her first feature length film, and one that highlights the beauty of nature, the fear that builds in isolation, and leaves us questioning the course of events.
At a 87-minute run time, the majority of our time is spent with Wendy (Karina Fontes), a part-time summer employee at a mountainous state park, and only her. At the start of the film, Wendy takes on a rough trail assignment at the end of the season, all in an attempt to prove to her friends that she’s capable enough to do the job. While their training surpasses hers, she is determined to show her capability despite her lack of experience.
When she takes a wrong turn and ends up deep in the backcountry, she stumbles upon what might be a potential crime scene. Before she knows it her phone is dead, and all she has left is a radio. After reaching out for support her job is clear, guard the site. But with limited preparedness for the outdoors, the fear building with the isolation, and strange man, Wendy must fight every single urge to run. The struggle between staying and running is constant. Although she knows logically that wandering off with no means to communicate her new location can result in her death, but the potential murder victim in front of her raises the stakes.
The film does a beautiful job at focusing on Wendy’s struggle to spend the night deep in the wilderness, facing down her worst fears. Slowly, as she loses touch with the ranger station after losing her radio and night starts to fall, she begins questioning everything around her. Wendy ends up fighting isolation, nature, and herself.
Given the nature of the film, Fontes spends the majority of the film alone, leaving her acting to carry to the film and carry it she does. Fontes is able to sell the emotion in every scene with both her facial expressions and voice. Her ability to act in silence and Benjamin’s ability to frame a scene makes the ones shot at night especially heavy. Overall, she delivers a captivating performance.
In all aspects, Body at Brighton Rock is a minimalist film. Benjamin allows nature to set the scenes and drive the narrative. The wide open shots of the ridge of Wendy alone on top of the rock build tension in the film. The wilderness becomes a main character, the antagonist, and the realization of everywhere to run and nowhere to run at the same time fuels Wendy’s struggle.
It is also commendable that the film is able to provide shots in the night time that are lit to perfection. Not too bright to detract from the ominous setting, but not too dark that I have to squint to find Wendy. The decision to put her in a bright yellow jacket also helps add to this.
Additionally, Owen Granich-Young’s sound design is also amazing in its simplicity. The call to highlight the sounds of nature, to let it speak for itself was masterful in building tension. Ultimately, the films simplicity, wide open setting and a decomposing body do more work and Wendy’s interactions and responses to the two make for a film that will leave you worried to go into the wilderness again, or at least make you bring a map.
As a fan of the genre, this is much needed slow and psychological film. That being said, I can understand that the snail’s pacing may not be for everyone. In addition, the intro has a 1980s summer camp flare that is unmatched in the tone of the film itself. While it is reflected in the coloring of the film, it is very separate from the emotions the story brings out in the viewers.
That being said, Body at Brighton Rock is a must see and Fontes is an actress I hope to see more of in the future. As for Benjamin? I can not wait for more feature-length films from her. While I have been in love with her anthology work, here she has proven that she can masterfully tell a story and pull the audience into the wilderness with only one character as a touch point.
Having premiered at South by Southwest in March, Body at Brighton Rock is available on demand and in select theaters now.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.