Wendy, the junior park ranger protagonist of Body At Brighton Rock, is warned before venturing out into the woods.
She’s cautioned on the standard protocol from her boss, Sandra, like avoiding predatory wildlife, layering up to combat the incoming cold front, and packing the essential supplies. But it’s a particular condemnation from her coworkers that hits the hardest: She’s just not ready to be on the trails alone.
It’s hard to separate the protagonist here from the woman behind the camera. Roxanne Benjamin’s feature debut has been a long time coming. She’s been producing genre films for a decade now, all the while writing/directing/producing her own shorts, particularly stand-out chapters in the Southbound and XX anthologies.
Now, she’s ready to venture off into the wilderness on her own, whether her peers agree or not. And while Body At Brighton Rock falls short in some aspects, it’s her direction that holds it all together—and proves that she’s ready to climb even higher.
For the most part, the film is a one-woman show. The aforementioned Wendy is a lower-level park ranger at the Brighton Rock Recreational Area, and she’s immediately established as a black sheep among the team when she shows up late and gets ridiculed by her boss. Her problems are compounded when she switches daily duties with a coworker—as a friendly favor at first, but also to prove to herself that she can handle the increased responsibility of putting up signs along a tougher trail.
Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and she’s tripped up by the typical pitfalls of a horror movie in the woods—she loses her map, her phone dies, her walkie talkie malfunctions. All except for one important outlier: she stumbles upon a dead body.
This is the stage that’s set for Karina Fontes, the star of the film, to showcase her talents. And this is a showcase for her. Fontes has had a few small roles (including one in Benjamin’s Southbound short), but this is her breakthrough starring role.
It’s not hard to imagine why a first-time feature director would hire a first-time lead actress, and to their credit, the performance works for the most part. The script does walk Fontes through some of the standard motions of a solo suspense tale, but it’s all the more impressive considering she doesn’t have a partner to play off of in many of her scenes.
Benjamin and cinematographer Hannah Getz add texture to her performance as well through some nice camerawork. Though the majority of the film takes place in the woods, they don’t go overboard with the nature scenery or sweeping landscapes; instead, they make smart choices like focusing on wide shots of Wendy at certain intervals to emphasize how alone she is. Fontes does quite well in one particularly terrifying situation, too. (It’s in the trailer, so don’t watch it if you want to avoid the spoiler.)
The film’s issues are mostly limited to the script and the editing, and it would be unfair to dismiss the film entirely for those faults alone. Yes, it’s frustrating to see the protagonist making boneheaded decisions at times, and some of the twists and turns are rather trite, but the film works well enough in spite of them.
In a way, the world of Brighton Rock Recreational Area—seemingly unrelated to the 1938 British novel Brighton Rock and its two film adaptations, the Canadian glam metal band of the same name, or the Queen song—comes to represent the film as a whole. Sure, we’ve all been in the woods before, but we’ve not all been in Wendy’s position, and perhaps some of us were given better maps than others.
Benjamin’s feature debut may have involved some rocky terrain. But she made it to her destination, and she’s ready to blaze more trails.
‘Body At Brighton Rock’ Blazes a New Trail for Director Roxanne Benjamin [CFF Review]
In her feature debut, Roxanne Benjamin and newcomer Karina Fontes overcome a mediocre script with sharp visuals and a solid performance.