While she’s been producing indie horror for years now, and has also directed several anthological segments in projects like Southbound and XX, Body at Brighton Rock marks the feature film debut for Roxanne Benjamin. Centered around a young woman named Wendy (Karina Fontes), who works for a national park, but finds herself wholly unprepared when she comes across a dead body in the wilderness. Tasked with staying with the corpse overnight until the proper authorities can tend to the deceased, Wendy is forced to confront her own fears and find an inner strength within herself while alone in the wilderness.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Benjamin, who discussed how her own experiences working at a national park inspired the concept of Body at Brighton Rock, and she also chatted about establishing the visual style for the film and collaborating with Fontes, who is front and center throughout the entire story.
Body at Brighton Rock arrives in theaters and On Demand this Friday, April 26th.
I'd love to start at the beginning and talk about what inspired your story here, and your approach to what feels like a rumination on isolation and also the journey of coming into your own, especially as a woman.
Roxanne Benjamin: I used to work in a museum within a park, so I wasn't a park ranger or anything like that. But a lot of the employees that are there are seasonal, or they're retirees or students or things like that. None of us know how to do anything, basically [laughs]. We're not savvy and we're not gonna survive in the wilderness. And just in talking to the actual rangers there, I found out a weird tidbit that you have to stay with a body if you find a body in the park, and bodies are found in the park all the time.
Because you're a representative of the park, you have to sign this civic oath when you start working there. It weirdly feels like you're signing up for indentured servitude in some way, where they can call on you at any time if there's some sort of national or domestic emergency, almost like jury duty, where you get in trouble if you don't go. They can send you to jail if you don't show up, if there's some sort of natural disaster or something, where you're handing out blankets and water bottles. It just feels like you have some vague responsibility that could at some point come into play, and it could potentially be something that I would have no idea how to handle.
The combination of that with the idea that if you do happen to come across a body, you have to stay and wait for a coroner or some sort of official to arrive to determine that there's been no foul play just started kicking around in my head. I felt like there were so many different directions you could take that idea that would be easily figured out, where you would in the first 20 minutes be like, "Oh, I see where this is going." It could be one very specific thing.
But growing up, I was a huge fan of Christopher Pike, and I feel like his books have always been around, like they are The Beatles or something. So when I think of YA [Young Adult] books, I think of Christopher Pike, where it always felt like you were following these very real characters that were messy and not really put together and put in weird situations and it was never just one thing. It was always like, "It's aliens, but also they're time travelers."
It's just super weirdo shit. That just felt like more of an interesting way to take this from my perspective as a filmmaker of not wanting to do this simple thriller. I wanted to try to make something that felt like a movie I wish I had seen when I was 12. That's about someone who feels like they're in over their head or that people are like, "Oh, you're not qualified to do this. You're not up to the task of something," who, through her own kind of bravado, thinks she can do anything, but then realizes, maybe she’s in way over her head.
With Karina and her character, so much of this movie falls on her. She's really great in it, and I was wondering if you could talk about working with her and her approach to Wendy?
Roxanne Benjamin: You know, this is her first feature. She was in my segment of Southbound, and she is a friend of Fabianne Therese’s, too, who was in my section of Southbound, and she's the character who wasn't there who shows up in the nightmares. She has a great look to her, and she's actually a model. That's her day job. I had another movie that I was doing a table read for and I had an actress drop out of the read-through. So I called her up and was like, "Hey, can you come in and just read this part for me? We're just doing a read-through."
When you're developing a script, you kind of do that once or twice just to hear it out loud and see how the characters sound, or if it's like, "Oh, shit. That character doesn't talk for like 20 pages." The stuff you don't really realize until you hear it all together. It was one of the leads of that movie and she just killed it reading the part, and I was so surprised. She had gotten herself an acting coach and had been trying to get acting jobs because she really wanted to act. I had no idea, and so I almost wrote this part with her in mind, but I figured it would be kind of a tough sell to my producers because she hasn't done anything.
I had her go on tape with one of the monologues, which are these really long monologues, and she killed it in the audition tape. The producers were like, "Okay, that works," and she was really great to work with.
In terms of the challenges of establishing the look of this movie and building a sense of the tension, because so much of it happens in the daylight, how did you rely on the natural elements to help build that tension?
Roxanne Benjamin: I just realized that almost all the things I do are actually nature-based, now that I’m thinking about it. But I wanted this color palette that feels like this was a 70s TV movie that your dad taped on VHS and then you watched it when you were like 10 or something. That was a hard vibe to sell someone as a financier, but my producers are awesome and they were totally on board with everything.
I also wanted to play with the idea of her going through this emotional journey of single character coming into her own in a way, and that feels very Western to me, so it was mixing those elements with this sunny, very light, almost teen comedy kind of aesthetic to heighten her journey.
[Photo Credit: Above photo of Roxanne Benjamin by Lou Noble courtesy of Magnet Releasing.]