Calgary Underground 2019 Review: BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK Keeps The Stakes Low, And That Is Mostly A Good Thing
The age-old 'alone in the forest at night' conceit is a classic for a reason. It has been one of humanity's primal fears since we ceased being cave dwellers and started developing our parietal lobe.
So, it is somewhat of a delight that Roxanne Benjamin's directorial debut (her short film work was enthusiastically received in horror-anthologies Southbound, XX, and VHS) keeps things small and focused on the simplest of value propositions to the audience: "What would you do if you got caught in the deep woods alone, and stumbled upon a dead body?"
Cheekily opening with Danny Elfman's "Dead Man's Party," from back in the days when the prolific score-meister was in pop outfit Oingo Boingo, we meet bright-eyed and bushy-tailed twentysomething Wendy as she dashes to work, late again, at Brighton Rock State Park. After (gently) being chewed out by her boss and (gently) mocked by her co-workers, she decides to prove herself by taking a job outside the gift shop and visitor centre on one of the deeper trails.
All Wendy has to do is swap the warning pamphlets periodically nailed to trees along one of the lesser-used trails. (One of them ironically reads, "Do not go hiking alone.") She is kitted out with a radio, elevation map, heavy coat, flash-light, and other gear. But mainly she is goofing off, and texting her friends in an effort to prove her Ranger bonafides.
People falling off cliffs while taking selfies is a curiously new mode of accidental death, and Benjamin, while hardly re-inventing the wheel here, plays around with expectations of the genre -- notably the ones involving characters doing dumb things that they should very well know better in doing.
Some bear traps (er, tropes) are avoided, while others she muddles headlong into, like her protagonist, and still others are invented wholecloth. One in particular has an older character in the film offer advice for Wendy's continual (and utterly lacking in awareness of such) tardiness: "To be early, is to be on time."
In short order, Wendy gets quite lost, misplaces her map, and kills her cellular phone battery -- you can see a screenwriter's hand at play here -- before she discovers the corpse of hiker, who may or may not have died from a fall. After being told, over the crackly, seemingly 1980s era-radio, by her bosses to stay put, but it is going to take some time to find her.
The movie settles then into itself: how to wait with nothing to do, in the dark wilderness, near a dead body. There are shades of Trevor Juras' The Interior, and perhaps, at one point, a visual nod to Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock, but any sort of self-reflection or existential crisis is eschewed in favour of simpler, PG-13 bump in the night thrills.
There is of course, nothing wrong with this, it is perfectly fine stuff, and breadcrumbs are dropped hither and yon. Side characters come and go, such as the awkward, clumsy, co-worker that might be following her in a bit of misguided flirtation, and a more experienced woodsman, who rather transparently, lies to Wendy about the state of charge on his iPhone while cheerfully, vaguely warning, "There are a lot of predators up here."
Wendy undergoes various modes of panic, curiosity (of the dead cat variety), and outright hallucination while being asked to do the most difficult of human tasks: Sitting still and waiting. As a species, we are not wired for this. Cinematically and dramatically, it is rare, however, albeit for contrast, aspects of this are somewhat tangentially built into other 'lost in the wilderness in modern times' stories such as The Blair Witch Project and Gerry.
Here, however, is a whiff of distraction in the editing and storytelling in Body At Brighton Rock. To be fair though, the film seems to be aimed for the Goosebumps and genre set, not necessarily the arthouse crowd.
Thus, the audience is not left with the deep itching dread that the film seems to be flirting with when it is Wendy on her own with too little information on what to do, and too much imagination. It should be noted that Karina Fontes' performance grows into its own, in a way that is reminiscent (to these eyes) of Jocelin Donahue in Ti West's House of the Devil.
The film, perhaps, fails to encompass what it is best at, namely the aforementioned age-old story, in an effort to raise the stakes in both the action and narrative sense. The director takes a few late in the game escalations (via a 2nd unit sequence, I believe directed by Jason Hobo With A Shotgun Eisner), and shortcuts (oh hi John Getz cameo!) for the sake of expediency.
Thus, Body at Brighton Rock concludes a wee bit too abruptly, and tidily, lacking an emphasis on the character we just spent the entire movie with. This is perhaps, an desire to get out early, or, by the film's own logic, on time.
Body at Brighton Rock
- Roxanne Benjamin
- Roxanne Benjamin
- Karina Fontes
- Casey Adams
- Emily Althaus
- Miranda Bailey