Body at Brighton Rock

Studio: Magnet
Directed by Roxanne Benjamin

Apr 24, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Like the highly influential It Follows (2014) and Netflix’s ubiquitous Stranger Things (2016-), writer/director/producer Roxanne Benjamin’s Body at Brighton Rock presents itself as another thriller lowering a bucket into the benevolent well that is our nostalgia for the 80s. In fact, its retro poster is one of the more striking in recent memory, depicting the film’s heroine stranded atop the titular rock as the sun sets behind a mountain range, all encapsulated within the silhouette of a growling bear. Rounded out with a rock score and a funky credits font, this homage unfortunately wears thin rather quickly, revealing itself to be superfluous embellishment placed upon a film fatally short on compelling characters, intriguing plot, and— most crucial of all— scares.

Body at Brighton Rock begins as protagonist Wendy (newcomer Karina Fontes), donning the khaki attire of a non-specific state park employee, rushes to a meeting at a nature center. Detecting her tardiness, Wendy’s supervisor embarrasses her in front of her coworkers, causing her face to sink at the further cementation of her reputation as a bit of an airhead. In addition to the overbearing, disapproving supervisor, we’re introduced to a cast of characters straight off an 80s horror checklist: the sex-crazed best friend eyeing the fratty jock; the sharp, introverted good guy; the awkward ne’er-do-well. How perplexing, then, that the film follows only Wendy forward, after setting the table for what appears to be a take on a slasher.

With what seem to be the responsibilities of a park ranger and the attitude of someone doing community service, Wendy treks out into the wilderness, where she promptly loses her map, and then herself. What’s worse, she stumbles upon a mangled corpse (fantastic special effects makeup from Josh and Sierra Russell), and upon reaching the nature center via radio, is instructed she will have to stay put until a rescue team can locate her the following morning. Shaken up by the both the dead body and a cryptic encounter with a hiker, the bulk of Body at Brighton Rock consists of Wendy’s struggle to overcome her scattered psyche and survive the night.

Fontes does the best she can with a script that offers her little, revealing virtually none of Wendy’s backstory, and illuminating nothing as to why this challenge is particularly daunting or transformative. In a highlight, Wendy puts in earphones and dances down the mountain path to “Point of No Return” by Expose, and Fontes relishes the opportunity to breathe life into this character. It’s an engaging, playful scene, but sadly not enough. Besides this, Wendy is left to do little more than whine, scream, and make colossally poor decisions, resulting in a character who does not garner much good will.

However, sitting through half-baked plotting and rushed characterization in the name of getting to some well-crafted thrills is part of the fun of many 80s genre flicks, so the question remains— Is Body at Brighton Rock scary? Bafflingly, no. After settling into the idea that, despite numerous tonal shifts, the film will be a story of a frightened, stranded woman battling the simple psychological torment of being out in the woods alone, writer/director Benjamin throws cliche after cliche at her audience. Numerous eerie developments reveal themselves to be dead-end dream sequences, and the film is so rife with uninspired jump scares, one longs for the joyless efficiency of even a bottom-tier entry in the Conjuring universe. The slow, relentless paranoia of being alone in the woods— that peculiar sense of vast openness growing more and more claustrophobic— never sets in. Even a twist meant to tie a few loose ends only serves to drive home the fact that this trifle of a tale ought have remained around the campfire.

Other highlights of the film include a gripping score by The Gifted, as well as excellent work in sound design. Benjamin has shown promising work in horror anthology series such as V/H/S (2012) and XX (2017), but stumbles here with the transition to feature-length. Were Body at Brighton Rock truly meant to be an 80s homage, it needs to have more zest for the genre. And were it meant to be an unnerving psychological thriller, it needs more meat.

(www.bodyatbrightonrock.com/)

Author rating: 3/10

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