An Ill-Prepared Wildnerness Adventure Gets Lost in the Woods
Directed By Roxanne Benjamin / 2019
Once again, Wendy is running late for her job. She is a park ranger at the (fictional) Brighton Rock Recreation Area. Because she doesn’t arrive in time, she misses the head ranger’s warnings that temperatures are dropping to dangerous levels once night falls, and that there are increasing sightings of mountain lions throughout the park. Oh-ho! the audience says. We know Wendy’s going to find herself lost in the wilderness, and now we know what sorts of threats she’ll face while she’s out there. Except that’s not what happens at all. Body at Brighton Rock gives us a perfect roadmap of the challenges our protagonist will face and like our protagonist, loses that map in the woods. The result is a film that feels much longer than its 90 minutes while we wait for something- anything- to happen.
It doesn’t help that the situation Wendy finds herself in is entirely her own fault. Seeing an unprepared and inexperienced character take on a challenging task, then continually make one stupid decision after another is a tough way to build audience sympathy (she pepper-sprays herself at one point, for Jack London’s sake!). When Wendy finally does arrive at work, she volunteers to put up signs along the trails, so her friend can stay at the visitor center and flirt with a cute co-worker. No one except Wendy thinks this is a good idea. Still, she insists and in less time than it takes to tell, Wendy finds herself alone, deep in the park with no idea where she is at. Her cell phone is dead, her walkie-talkie is dying, and her only companion is the dead body of a hiker who may have been met with foul play.
The result is a film that feels much longer than its 90 minutes while we wait for something- anything- to happen
Now we have a setup for a perfect little wilderness adventure story: an ill-prepared protagonist, a coming set of dangers, and the psychological challenges of being lost and alone with a dead body in the dark. But writer/director Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound, XX) doesn’t use the elements she sets up to any effect. The movie relies too heavily on stock ‘whoosh!’ and ‘scrape!’ sounds and sudden jump cuts. Add in a couple of dumb fake-out scares and a goofy twist at the end. The movie fails to build any real tension (an early scene bathed in light filtered through the walls of an orange tent is a nice exception, as is a very late encounter with an unexpected threat).
Karina Fontes plays Wendy, and she’s onscreen by herself for almost the entire film. She’s a capable actress who can carry the storytelling weight the film asks of her. At the start, Wendy is scared and knows she is out of her depth once she realizes she is lost. She has to fake an authority she doesn’t think she has at a couple of points (her line “You know it’s illegal not to answer a park ranger” was cute), and Fontes sells the idea that Wendy knows she’s not convincing anyone least of all herself.
I think there’s a lot of talent on display here, both in front of and behind the camera
Benjamin’s a relative newcomer. This is her first feature-length film after having written and directed segements for various horror anthologies (none of which, I admit, I have seen). I hope she gets another crack at this soon. My problems with the movie aside, I think there’s a lot of talent on display here, both in front of and behind the camera. I just hope that the next time around, she pushes her ideas a little farther and pushes her protagonist a little harder. Body at Brighton Rock has a lot of promise as a premise, it’s just too bad the movie loses its way.