2019 | rated R | starring Karina Fontes | written & directed by Roxanne Benjamin | 1 hr 27 mins |
Body at Brighton Rock is an absolutely awful new survival/horror movie that was given an opening night premiere slot at the 2019 South by Southwest film festival. It’s a leaf in the ancestral tree descending from Open Water and movies like Backcountry. There is plenty of fear to be mined from being lost in nature and falling at the mercy of the elements and a few movies movies using a pocketbook budget, a minimalist crew and the marketable clout of being based on a true tragedy have been able to make it work. Brighton is the bottom-of-the-barrel version of this story, incompetently made, completely tone-deaf, the movie mistakes run-time padding for slow-burn atmosphere. It feels more like you’ve just been conned by a game of 3-card Monte in a subway than just watched a movie.
A debut feature, written & directed by Roxanne Benjamin (of the horror anthology Southbound) and starring Karina Fontes (more Southbound), Brighton looks like it was shot on a GoPro and edited on Powerpoint. By comparison, the Australian crocodile survival/horror movie Black Water looks like a shoddy home movie too, particularly in it’s first act. But Black Water is a micro-budget masterwork that knows how to generate tension, create genuine jumps and leans into the horror of a human falling prey to nature. The directors of Black Water never worked again, Benjamin will be praised as a new rising star in horror.
We start with some Disney Channel original main titles and a wacky opening where our hero, park ranger in training Wendy (Fontes) arrives late to work. Benjamin plays the ironically happy horror movie set-up so ironically happy it approaches parody. Wendy puts on her earbuds and skips past cartoon bear signs putting up fliers that warn campers to be aware of their surroundings. She ultimately gets lost on a rock during a training exercise where she finds a dead body and is instructed to wait by it until morning.
The movie then shifts in neutral right there as Wendy spends the night being scared and having hallucinations about the body (which looks like it is molting into a pod person). Survival horror movies, particularly those focused on one actor usually put their lead through the ringer. Maybe an initial encounter with a bear that Wendy has to nurse to stop the bleeding. Maybe a finger that gets infect and she has to sever it. Nope, nothing here. This is normally the kind of role that really showcases an actor’s primal range. Fontes is not good in this. She may well be talented, but there is just no way to tell that from this movie because despite being in almost every single scene she is given almost nothing to work with.
Benjamin is unable to turn the woods into an atmosphere of dread and unable to put us in the shoes of the main character. She shoots Wendy in a lot of static wide shots which has the opposite effect. Instead of being lost in her story it puts us at a safe distance with a voyeur’s perspective. It’s really weird.
Another interesting thing I noticed as the movie wandered aimlessly and so did my mind, was the amount of butt shots there are in here of Fontes in her park ranger uniform. Ok, hear me out. This is usually something explained as The Male Gaze, a dreaded term coined by 4th wave feminism to describe the way a movie camera looks at female actors while men are behind the camera and in the director’s chair. It’s not 100% wrong – Michael Bay has made a living on it – but it also assumes a) there isn’t a female market for this, that only males look at women when we know that women are looking at women just as intently and b) that gaze is sordid or perverse in some way and not an admiration of beauty. It’s not sordid in Body of Brighton Rock but it is there, which contradicts the idea that putting women behind the camera would put a stop to The Male Gaze or that it exists as a pernicious part of moviemaking in the first place.
Eventually, with the movie dragging itself to the finish line, Wendy puts on a coat and ends up encountering the grizzly bear from the movie’s poster. It’s a real bear, just like the real crocodile in Black Water but the encounter isn’t as seamless. To say the least. It looks like the half-finished product of a backyard production with blood effects more silly than cringing. It’s the final F- you this lazy con job has for us. Body of Brighton Rock is the worst kind of bad movie. Amateurish enough to be painful but not wacky enough to be funny. It just sits there molding like the titular body… Oh! and there is a eye-roller of a twist too.