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Simon Read [Film Festival 07.09.19] thriller

Writer-director Roxanne Benjamin's feature debut is a curiously inert horror-thriller about a young park ranger named Wendy (Karina Fontes), who, during her rounds of the trails one afternoon, discovers the corpse of a male hiker. Upon radioing her supervisor she is ordered to remain overnight at what may be a crime scene, to ensure the body is not disturbed. I have no idea what exactly this film wants to be, and I'm not convinced that it knows either.

We're introduced to Wendy as she's running late for her morning briefing and receives a stern telling-off from her boss. Determined to prove herself, she accepts the job of walking the rough trail and securing warning signs for hikers. Her colleagues scoff at this, certain that she is too inexperienced for such a task. When she discovers a dead body deep in the woods, Wendy must summon the courage to stay put for the night, despite the creepy circumstances.

When the film started I initially assumed it was a dark comedy. The Morricone-inspired soundtrack suggesting another of those ironic, post-modern grindhouse-type flicks. Wendy's co-workers chastise her in a playful manner, and a goofy nerd attempts to woo her with his embarrassing chat up lines. Wendy skips around the forest listening to pop music on her headphones, and so far we're having fun. From here though, we're quickly asked to take the material seriously. On discovering a body, she panics and the film takes an ostensibly darker turn.

Body at Brighton Rock has the distinct air of a film that simply doesn't know what it's doing. The main problem, and it's a big one, is a wildly unfocussed tone. Fontes, and by extension Benjamin, don't seem to have grip on the character. She is playfully naive and irresponsible one moment, terrified the next - capable equally of securing the site and radioing for help, but also accidentally macing herself in her own face, and suffering frequent bouts of uncontrollable falling down.

It's not just characterisation that lets the film down, there's the story as well - or lack thereof. The film utilizes the old 'It Was Just a Dream' trope three times during Wendy's night in the woods. Three! To use this tired device once is hackneyed, twice is criminal, but three times? Perhaps it looked good on the page, but as the film consistently pulls the rug out from under us it utterly deflates what meagre tension it has up to this point managed to construct. We don't know what to believe, and as a result we don't invest in the story. Is there a strange man in the woods? Is the corpse going to spontaneously come to life? What's that spooky noise? The only pertinent question really is: Who cares?

Of course, the writer can't resist a last-minute twist ending, a predictable and entirely superfluous wink to a beleaguered audience. I wasn't even annoyed at this point, but the audience groaned audibly before shuffling listlessly outside.

I described this film to a friend as a 90-minute horror film in which nothing actually happens, and that still feels like an apt plot summary. I know that nobody sets out to make a bad film, and I'm sure all concerned are capable of better things, but Body at Brighton Rock is a genuine dud.

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