Roxanne Benjamin has built her reputation in horror with a string of scary anthologies, producing V/H/S and V/H/S/2, then writing and directing segments of desert-highway set Southbound and the female-focused XX. Now, she's striking out on her own as writer/director of Body At Brighton Rock, a horror story about a headstrong young woman forced to face her greatest fears over the course of a terrifying night.
Body At Brighton Rock centers on Wendy (Karina Fontes), a spirited but naïve park ranger who is desperate to prove herself to her peers. So she volunteers for a task that might be above her level of expertise, and soon finds herself lost in a massive state park. If that weren't troubling enough, she then stumbles upon a corpse. As night descends, the dead man will be her only company as she awaits rescue. Well, if she's lucky.
Following the Body At Brighton Rock world premiere at SXSW, SYFY FANGRRLS spoke with Benjamin about her feature-length directorial debut and its real-life origins.
"I had been working in a park at the time," Benjamin said writing the script, "And it's just a lot of seasonal employees, people who are like students and retirees, and stuff like that. Not really like a crack team of wilderness experts, you know what I mean?" While her work was mostly confined to the park's museum, Benjamin's imagination wondered to the wilderness beyond and its more advanced hiking trails. "What if there were a body found in the park?" She wondered, noting, "And it's something that happens way more than people think."
In the film, when Wendy calls in for help and to report the body, she's told she must stay put, which is based on a real rule Benjamin uncovered. "It just kind of launched from that," she said, "Learning that weird tidbit that if you work in a park, you can't leave a potential crime scene. Like you can't leave a body alone until someone shows up like a coroner or someone like that to determine that there wasn't any foul play of any kind."
Benjamin describes herself as "a big outdoorsy person" and goes on annual week-long hikes with her dad. However, she felt like being stuck in Wendy's situation would be a horrifying challenge. In writing Wendy's journey, Benjamin considered how she might react under the pressures of such stress, isolation, and mounting terror. Sometimes this means making missteps that had the SXSW Midnighters crowd crying out in alarm. "Pretty much everything that she does in the film is something I've done," Benjamin said, "And I spend a lot of time in the woods. I grew up in the woods, so I don't really see her as bumbling and not super competent. She's just not aware of her own competence, until she is. Until she has to be, you know? And I think that's very true for a lot of people. And that's kind of how we get to experience the world."
"I thought of it more as almost like a fable," Benjamin continued, "Of how you're put through all of these trials, and you have to go through them. There's no other way. Like, she wants to run away, and she can't! And she's literally stuck here between a rock and a hard place. You don't have anywhere to go; you have to face the situation that's in front of you."
As the night grows darker, Body At Brighton Rock teases out a few possibilities of what kind of horror story it might be, touching on several of Wendy's fears. Is there a killer in the woods? Is something paranormal at play? Is it all in her head? Or is there something real and ruthless stalking her? Playing out each possibility allows the horror film to dabble in different subgenres, from slasher to supernatural to psychological thriller. "I feel like there are four or five very simple directions it could go, that would be extremely obvious," Benjamin said, adding, "I wanted to try something that combined different elements, and that wasn't just one thing." The result is a finale that is uniquely frightening.
Benjamin's got more scares in store. She'll be directing a couple of episodes of the Creepshow TV series, which will stream exclusively on Shudder. Plus, she is penning a modern remake of Night of the Comet, a 1984 cult classic about teen sisters who party and fight zombies in a post-apocalyptic cityscape. "I was a huge, huge fan of (the original)," Benjamin said, "So, I was really excited to hear that it was available. I kind of trapped them in their office until they would listen to my pitch on it." What was that pitch? For now, she's keeping that secret. But putting this female-fronted sci-fi project in the hands of a fangrrl sounds like a great idea to us.
Body at Brighton Rock hits theaters and VOD on April 26.