Thursday, April 25, 2019

Body at Brighton Rock: Seriously People, Stop Going Into the Woods

Outdoorsy types are passionate about nature, which might be endearing, but if you ever get lost in the woods, the survival instincts of a New Yorker will probably be more helpful. Regrettably, Wendy has neither attribute, but she works as the most-junior, least competent park ranger in a fictional National Park anyway. For her, the Federal government can never shut-down too often. When she gets lost, she gets really lost, but at least she finds a dead body to compensate in Roxanne Benjamin’s Body at Brighton Rock, which opens tomorrow in New York.

Nobody has much confidence in Wendy, but she still switches her daily assignment to something more hiking-oriented, both as a favor to her friend and to prove a point (obviously that won’t work out so well). She could stay on her trail just fine if she just followed the map, but she quickly contrives a way of losing it. Suddenly, she is taking selfies on a mystery summit, much to the alarm of her co-workers. Then she spies a corpse.

Without an autopsy to confirm, the possibility of foul play must be considered. That means Wendy will have to hunker down and protect the evidence until the extraction team reaches them in the morning. Of course, it is already starting to get cold and dark—and her skills and supplies are lacking. At this point, Wendy’s mind starts playing sinister tricks on her—or is it? It is hard to say, because the film plays it maddeningly coy when it comes to its genre business.

Oddly, Brighton somewhat suffers when you look back on it with a little distance. During the initial screening, most genre fans will really dig Benjamin’s vintage horror vibe. It has the look and texture of classic 1980s horror, but not the violence. Yet, with a little consideration, it is hard to have much patience with a film so fundamentally predicated on irresponsible behavior.

More problematically, Benjamin never settle into any particular genre, nor does she even flirt with any for very long. That all leads to a resigned “so, that was that” summary reaction when it is all over. Brighton is no Trouble with Harry or Weekend at Bernie’s, but it is less annoying than Swiss Army Man, to place it on the spectrum of movies in which corpses play a substantial role. On the other hand, it is still definitely more “horror” or “thriller” than Backcountry, which was packaged as a midnight movie, but was really just about a lost couple trying not to antagonize a rather territorial bear.

Be all that as it may, Karina Fontes is totally committed as Wendy and Casey Adams nicely destabilizes the proceedings as the mystery man who periodically turns up. In her feature directorial debut, Benjamin does not quite live up to the promise of her contributions to the anthology film Southbound, but she shows enough stylistic flair to have us ready to check out her next film. However, Body at Brighton Rock is the film we have now and it earns a decidedly mixed notice when it opens tomorrow (4/26) in New York, at the IFC Center.