Body and Brighton Rock is a close, tense nature survival thriller in which an inexperienced park ranger must stay with a body she discovers overnight until help comes. She then must contend with the tricks her mind plays on her. The titular Body at Brighton Rock lies at the focal point of writer-director Roxanne Benjamin’s feature debut. Body at Brighton Rock follows Wendy (Karina Fontes), an inexperienced, part-time park ranger who literally stumbles upon a corpse while hanging signs along a trail she’s not familiar with. When she calls it in, the police tell her that she needs to secure the area and wait for their arrival. She’ll need to wait for them all night–alone in the wilderness.
What follows is a night of psychological distress as Wendy faces personal demons and the dangers of existing in isolation in the wild. Cementing her initial ineptitude, Wendy makes mistake upon mistake; first, she heads down a trail on which she has no business traversing. Then, she contaminates the crime scene and provokes a seemingly dangerous stranger. She bites off much more than she can chew, and nature begins to bite back. This leads to a strong character arc the likes of which we rarely see in what is ostensibly a horror film. However, this is no traditional horror film, and I love it for that. From the outset, Benjamin uses whimsical title cards, reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s style, that contrasts what will come later. Rather than straightforward horror (which it does contain, to a point), this is a character-driven film with a solid arc.
Body at Brighton Rock‘s strength should be no surprise coming from horror short superstar Roxanne Benjamin in her feature film debut. She’s been featured in nearly every horror anthology of note in the last decade: from the first and second V/H/S films to Southbound to XX. We’ve been clamoring for a feature from Benjamin, and it came quietly enough–too quietly, in my opinion. She deftly directs Body in a way that I hope we will continue to see in the future. It’s fun, balanced, and scary enough to do the job.
Moreover, Fontes’ Wendy loves life to her career’s detriment. She doesn’t pay enough attention to her surroundings or enough respect to her employer. Truly, she gets herself into her overnight mess. But Fontes plays Wendy with such honesty and ease that she lulls us into her corner, standing with her as she faces challenge upon challenge. She’s the only person onscreen for most of the film, and despite being unknown, she displays effortless ease as she grows from helpless part-timer to strong survivor. What really stinks is that no one will talk about Karina Fontes come awards season. It’s too small and too horror-related for anyone to take notice, but Fontes gives a subtle, earnest performance that more people should watch.
The message of Body at Brighton Rock is one of growth, shedding naive selfie-taking in favor of standing up and surviving adversity. Ultimately, the body, much like the one at the center of Stephen King’s timeless novella The Body, symbolizes change and growth in its immature main character. Instead of being a MacGuffin sought by a group of adolescent boys, Wendy stumbles upon this one which catalyzes a change she didn’t realize she needed. Roxanne Benjamin delivers this message with care and Karina Fontes carries the film by herself flawlessly, bringing fresh ease to the role. This is an under-watched indie gem of this year.