SXSW: Body at Brighton Rock (2019)
One of the best ways to achieve terror is to put a character in a place where they should inherently feel safe and make it abundantly clear that they’re not. A lazy park ranger who trades her shift with a friend shouldn’t run into any trouble stapling flyers to trees on well-marked trails, but of course that won’t be the case. This film’s title reveals one of the reasons that its protagonist and anyone watching should prepare to be afraid, and why this film works as well as it does is because the body is the least of its main character’s fears.
Wendy (Karina Fontes) arrives late to the morning briefing for rangers at Brighton Rock National Recreation Area, and after being called out by her supervisor, offers to take her friend Maya’s duties for the day so that Maya (Emily Althaus) can flirt with an attractive coworker. Maya is immediately dubious, since she doesn’t consider Wendy to be especially responsible and knows that she has little familiarity with the trails. Confident and determined to succeed, Wendy sets out with Maya’s pack and her earphones in to do her job, and even finds time to enjoy her lunch while taking in the view of the entire valley. The photo that she sends to Maya announces her triumphant ascension to the peak of the local mountain, which Maya points out is definitely not where she is, in addition to asking who the person is in the back of her photo.
And just like that, Wendy has gone from wandering around the woods to being instructed to wait until morning with the dead body of a hiker that she has accidentally found. What makes the build to this point even more effective is that Wendy has everything she needs with her: a map of the trail, a cell phone that somehow gets service, a radio, and a flashlight. On top of that, it’s daytime, and she should have nothing to fear before it gets dark, when anyone being told to stay alone with a dead body overnight would have reason to worry. Each of those precious amenities is slowly lost as Wendy tries to remain calm and not let the approaching darkness of the woods and her growing fears of isolation overwhelm her.
Roxanne Benjamin’s solo directorial debut… gradually and subtly [crafts] fear
This is a very simple film in many ways that uses small, seemingly insignificant occurrences to create suspense and dread. Wendy’s carefree venture to a place she can’t possibly identify heightens the tension right away, almost begging for trouble as she walks around without the ability to hear anyone or anything around her. As the hours pass and the reality of the situation sets in, her mind begins to play tricks on her, threatening to harm her just as much as the actual threats present in the woods. While the ending to this film, which runs under ninety minutes, posits questionable interpretations of its events, Roxanne Benjamin’s solo directorial debut should more than keep audiences’ heart rates up with its bare-bones thriller tactics, gradually and subtly crafting fear out of what should be a harmless scenario.
*lead image courtesy of Body at Brighton Rock (2019)