Earlier this year, Body at Brighton Rock debuted at the South by Southwest Film Festival. A stripped down survival horror-thriller, Body at Brighton Rock also marks Roxanne Benjamin’s directorial debut of a feature length movie. Benjamin has been a bright spot in horror for several years. She’s produced the anthology horror movies V/H/S, V/H/S 2, and XX, as well as the criminally unseen The Devil’s Candy. In addition, she has writing credits on some of those projects. Now Benjamin is front and center with what promises to be another good addition to the ‘don’t go in the woods’ subgenre.
Wendy, a summer state park employee, is struggling at work. To prove she can do the job, Wendy switches assignments with a friend, taking a difficult trail. When she takes a wrong turn and loses her map, Wendy stumbles across a dead body deep in the woods. The sun is setting, park authorities are hours away and Wendy finds herself guarding the body, alone, until morning.
Body at Brighton Rock Gets Mileage on Simple Premise
Out of the gate, Body at Brighton Rock looks like yet another horror movie trying to capture that 80’s retro feel. From the title card and opening credits, you couldn’t be blamed for expecting another Summer of ‘84 or The Barn. Even Benjamin’s introduction of Wendy feels like it wouldn’t be out of place in an 80’s screwball comedy. But Benjamin quickly shifts gears when she gets Wendy lost in the woods. From that point onward, Body at Brighton Rock slows things down and plays out more like an introspective thriller. What follows is a stripped down psychologically-driven movie with horror elements.
As a horror-thriller, Body at Brighton Rock lives and dies based on what’s suggested rather than thrown out at the screen.
As a horror-thriller, Body at Brighton Rock lives and dies based on what’s suggested rather than thrown out at the screen. Once Wendy discovers the dead body deep in the woods, Benjamin’s thriller relies on exploiting her character’s fears as the movie’s source of horror. You hear and see what Wendy thinks she sees as it gets dark. While there’s certainly a few effective jump scares here and there, Benjamin focuses more on foreboding atmosphere. How much Body at Brighton Rock works will depend on your ability to connect with Wendy. Another character briefly surfaces, introducing a possible treat. And there’s hints that a bear is wandering the woods. But for 30 minutes or so of the movie, it’s the hints at what might be in the shadows that propels the scares. To her credit, Benjamin shines in eliciting a lot of tension with very little on screen.
A Strong Third Act Saves The Movie’s Early Potential
As good as Benjamin is at maintaining tension, Body at Brighton Rock threatens to come up empty-handed as it builds towards the final act. Hints, dreams, and fake-out’s don’t make a scary movie. Admittedly, I was concerned that Benjamin was going to end things with nothing else up her sleeve. At one point, I even considered that Body at Brighton Rock was the survival horror version of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Fun scares, good atmosphere, but not much else. Certainly, the lack of a clearly defined threat hurts some of the movie’s tension.
There’s a great ‘he’s there, now he’s gone’ moment that puts you on high alert.
But then Body at Brighton Rock throws a couple of curve balls in its final act. The re-appearance of an earlier established threat instantly heightens the movie’s stakes. There’s a great ‘he’s there, now he’s gone’ moment that puts you on high alert. Briefly, Benjamin teases a pretty fast, unsatisfactory resolution to the threat. If the movie had ended on that note, my final review would be very different. Fortunately, Body at Brighton Rock unveils another danger, previously hinted at, that takes the movie to some crazy heights for an indie film. Horror movies where nature ‘strikes back’ are a mixed bag for obvious reasons. Without CGI effects, filmmakers struggle to convince that real animals are attacking. Though this isn’tJaws, Benjamin still stages an impressive ‘don’t go in the woods’ moment. One final twist closes out the movie that truly elevates it from decent thriller to indie gem.
Body at Brighton Rock a Fun Indie Thriller
With Body at Brighton Rock, Roxanne Benjamin continues to impress as a horror filmmaker. In spite of its limited budget, Benjamin crafts a continuously foreboding atmosphere based on what’s implied rather than shown. As Wendy, Karina Fontes delivers a big assist with a likable and fun performance. At one point, the movie threatens to underwhelm. A well-executed third act of surprises instantly course corrects and leaves you with a lean, fun thriller.