'Body at Brighton Rock' Review: A Tight, Tense Thriller With a Scenic View
In the shadow of Avengers: Endgame, there are few counter-programming options that make it worth skipping the cultural moment. Roxane Benjamin’s Body at Brighton Rock, a new survival thriller about a teen lost in the woods, is just good enough to make you consider staying in if you’re not keen on sitting next to howling Marvel fans for three hours.
Out in select theaters and Video on Demand on April 26, Body at Brighton Rock is a lean 87-minute survival thriller with picturesque views and a killer, if slightly confusing, supernatural twist. The film follows Wendy (Karina Fontes), an inexperienced park ranger who wanders too far from her route and finds a body with no identification. As the sun sets on Brighton Rock State Park (the film was shot in Idyllwild, California, two hours away from L.A.), Wendy begins a long, cold night alone outdoors beside a decomposing corpse.
Body at Bright Rock is one movie informed by a lot of different sources. It’s part Stephen King, part John Green, part Firewatch, and part Five Nights at Freddy’s. And it honors its influences well, packing its pieces into a tight plot that explodes in a violent and exciting finale. Where the movie falls flat is only that there are not enough pages in the screenplay to keep the fire burning.
After the film’s central conflict kicks into gear, there isn’t terribly much action beyond Wendy’s (impressively sequenced) mental and emotional descent. Body at Brighton Rock doubles-down on the mystery of the dead body and the circumstances that led this poor sap to die at the feet of a tall rock. And the film spends so much time wondering, it never does much wandering. Like its protagonist, the movie feels frozen in place, unwilling to venture beyond to explore other narrative territory.
The film only teases at these possibilities. Chilling encounters with strangers, a supernatural phenomenon that can’t be explained, and horrific beasts that lurk just beyond the trees — all of these are great waypoints for the story Brighton Rock almost could be. The film is still fine, but I’m curious what story Roxane Benjamin could have unlocked had she went all in.
Thank goodness, at least, that Benjamin knows how to capture the rich green scenery of Idyllwild, which lends her film its unique visual identity. Gone are the abandoned hotels and haunted houses of other tired survival horror movies. The film is almost a paradox: a tense paranoia thriller with some extremely chill views that could inspire a Fleet Foxes video.
Because Wendy doesn’t go anywhere to find more conflict, Benjamin turns inward into her protagonist. The result is a somewhat refreshing change from other horror movie “final girls”; unlike Ellen Ripley and Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wendy is not that bright or capable.
She’s not an airhead, mind you. She’s just very out of her element and prone to paranoia. You will scream at Bright Rock, not out of fright but out of bewilderment when Wendy does something so incalculably stupid. And she does stupid things a lot! At times, you’ll wish you could rip out her earbuds and tell her to read the damn “How to Not Die Here” literature she’s hanging on trees.
Emerging director Roxane Benjamin is becoming strongly associated with horror, having contributed to anthologies like 2015’s Southbound (also starring Fontes) and 2017’s XX. Brighton Rock wears horror on its badged sleeve, but folks looking for scares equal to the likes of The Conjuring series or It need not explore these here parts.
Brighton Rock isn’t afraid to get spooky, and in the right conditions one may find its few scares and surprise twist ending rattling to the bone. But for a movie about the terror of getting lost, Body at Brighton Rock is too stuck in one place to do anything wild.
Body at Brighton Rock opens in select theaters and VOD on April 26.