Body at Brighton Rock
Directed by: Roxanne Benjamin
Run time: 87 minutes
The Lowdown: Horror movies today often have to work really, really hard to generate genuine anxiety, and we’re not even talking about being, you know, actually scary.
Maybe that’s why I had such a big grin on my face at the conclusion of writer-director Roxanne Benjamin’s feature-length debut, Body at Brighton Rock.
The film, which is a wonderful mash-up of classic tropes, including nods to zombies, ghost stories and human-vs-nature survival thrillers, succeeds by simply mining, and playing off, our own fertile imaginations.
Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Body at Brighton Rock uses a narrative framing device usually only found in the works of eccentric filmmakers like Wes Anderson. Basically, it’s a curtain call and close signifying the start and conclusion of an internal mind-play fueled by our own worst terrors.
Fear of being alone in the woods? Check.
Fear of the dark? Check.
Fear of postmortem reanimation? Check.
Fear of carnivorous predators? Check.
Wendy (Karina Fontes), is a carefree, albeit absent-minded, employee at a mountain park. She’s the type of worker assigned the least-challenging tasks because she just doesn’t seem capable of handling responsibility.
Maybe that’s why she jumps at the chance to tackle a tough assignment, if only to show that she’s not deserving of being dismissed and laughed at by her co-workers.
What starts out as a nice day for an extended hike, however, suddenly becomes something much more serious when Wendy wanders way off course and then discovers a body in a remote backcountry area that’s nowhere near the park’s mapped boundaries.
Wendy, naturally, freaks out because one, she’s completely lost, and two, she receives word from the ranger’s office that she’s traveled so far off-course she will have to wait until morning to be air-lifted to safety. Oh, and she has to secure the body, just in case it’s a crime scene and not an accidental death.
Everything that could go wrong does go wrong, which is exactly what would likely happen if I or anyone else found themselves in Wendy’s shoes.
She trips and falls and smashes her radio. She forgets to charge her cell phone before the hike, and it dies. She thinks she hears a bear and discharges the repellent spray, only she aims the nozzle into the wind so it blows right back into her eyes.
And I haven’t even mentioned the body. Not since Weekend at Bernie’s has a corpse been this lively. Or unpredictable.
Benjamin previously directed segments for two excellent horror anthologies, XX and Southbound, and if IMDb is to be believed, she also is shooting an upcoming segment for the new Creepshow anthology on the Shudder streaming platform.
Body at Brighton Rock is a huge step forward from those short segments, if only because it allows Benjamin the time and ability to flex her creative muscles, while slowly ratcheting the narrative tension, until finally delivering a series of unexpected jolts en route to a solid payoff.
This is a title to definitely seek out, and Benjamin’s name should stay fixed on your horror radar. I can’t wait to see what she surprises us with next.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Minimal.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – A fertile imagination and a giant black bear.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
The Intruder (Sony, 102 minutes, R, DVD): Deon Taylor has carved out a nice niche for himself as a director, and for the past 12 years, he has pumped out a slate of urban thrillers that bring a wholly African American-perspective to a genre that’s been too white for too long.
That doesn’t mean Taylor is knocking them out of the park, to borrow a baseball analogy, but he is showing signs of improvement.
Taylor’s latest, The Intruder, is basically a retread of a familiar trope, the aging, angry white male who begins terrorizing an unsuspecting single female or an entire family.
If you’ve seen Pacific Heights, Unlawful Entry or Lakeview Terrace, then you know the drill, and you know exactly how The Intruder will play out.
This genre, which also is home to a slew of scorned female-centric homewrecker flicks like Unforgettable or Obsessed, follows a very specific pattern that Taylor doesn't deviate much from.
Much like his last feature, Traffik, which examined human trafficking through the lens of an African-American journalist who becomes a victim, The Intruder focuses on an upscale black family, Scott and Annie Russell (Michael Ealy and Meagan Good), who decide to leave the big city and move into the California countryside when Annie locates a sprawling estate that’s been on the market for some time. While Scott and Annie appear to have a happy marriage, Taylor hints at past problems that he fails to properly flesh out.
Unlike Traffik, which featured an unremarkable villain, Taylor literally strikes gold by casting Dennis Quaid as the unstable, angry white guy antagonist, who has lived for decades in the estate and might not be as eager to part ways as he implies.
Quaid gives his all in a mostly one-dimensional role. He goes for broke in nearly every scene, using his marquee smile and weathered face to deploy a range of emotions as he slowly ratchets up the crazy.
It’s interesting and ironic to see Quaid, who previously starred in a similar film, Cold Creek Manor (2003), as one of the people being tormented, switch teams and become the villain.
My only quibble with Taylor’s work, including The Intruder, is his seeming blind spot to the pitfalls that come with simply swapping out a white family for a black family.
If he really wants to give his audience a proper thriller that mines the day-in, day-out struggles that many African-Americans face, he needs to focus on developing richer characters with fully-formed backstories and he needs to stop pussy-footing around the social differences that distinguish black communities from any other minority group.
If he can do that, and still continue tweaking established genre hallmarks, he just might make the kind of movie that showcases his talent on a par that matches his ambitious agenda.
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Assassinaut (Epic Pictures/Dread, 83 minutes, Unrated, Video-on-Demand): Assassinaut is proof that the Roger Corman school of filmmaking is alive and well.
Writer-director Drew Bolduc’s third feature is wonderfully bizarre and narratively chaotic, yet somehow the end result perfectly mirrors the low-budget, DIY-aesthetic of a classic 1950’s science fiction opus.
Assassinaut opens with a bad guy sporting the world’s creepiest mustache ever, who murders another guy that I think is supposed to be the president, just before bearing witness to a bizarre alien eyeball birth, which is immediately followed by Earth getting decimated by nuclear war in an effort, I think, to stop an alien race from conquering the planet.
Then it jumps forward 10 years into the future where a young, nomadic girl in a dystopian wasteland gets into a ray gun fight with a man-sized alien bug creature.
And then it flashes back to a point in time somewhere between the nuclear holocaust and the pew-pew alien bug fight.
The girl who will one day kill a man wearing an alien bug suit is Sarah (Shannon Hutchinson), and she is one of four teenagers chosen to help save humankind by blasting off into space to the Presidential Space Station, which is hovering above a mostly unexplored alien planet.
Sarah is accompanied by Charlie (Jasmina Parent), the quiet one; Tom (Johnathan Newport), the rich white-privilege kid who thinks saving the planet will look good on his resume; and Brooke (Yael Haskal), the over-eager political junkie and kind-of whiz-kid who is prone to bursts of exuberant joy at the worst possible moments.
Creepy mustache dude is their leader, who is appropriately named Commander (Vito Trigo), who basically tells the teens they’re all going to die in space because they have no business being astronauts.
“Space is the last resort of desperate souls,” he grimly informs them. “Space is a cruel hell. Spacemen die in space.”
“I’m not a man,” Sarah quips back.
Once the teens reach the space station, and meet the president (Irene Santiago), everything goes to shit in a hurry. The station is attacked and only a handful of soldiers, government officials and the kids escape in pods that plummet straight down to the alien planet.
Assassinaut refuses to play any of this for camp. Unlike say, Iron Sky, Bolduc has his actors play it straight. Instead of freaking out about being stranded on a distant planet that ain’t Earth, Sarah rallies the troops to go find the president and then save humanity.
The other interesting thing about Assassinaut, and what really made me think of Corman’s early works, specifically the pictures he cobbled together from footage and props and sets from other films, is that nothing about this new, alien planet looks remotely alien. It’s like these four kids have parachuted into a remote Colorado forest.
In fact, Bolduc uses special effects so sparsely that in the rare flash when you do see something not of this world, it stands out that much more.
However, that doesn’t mean Assassinaut doesn’t pack a punch with its special effects. The third act, especially, makes excellent use of old-school bladder prosthetics and includes a hallucinatory belly crawl into the heart of something not human and not necessarily alien.
Assassinaut is an uncompromising achievement that refuses to play by established rules. It doesn’t provide a lot of answers. It doesn’t explain key plot developments. It just pushes forward, like its lead Sarah, never looking back and never apologizing.