'Body At Brighton Rock' Review: There's Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself (And Also Dead Bodies) [SXSW]

With the opening credits of Body at Brighton Rock, writer/director Roxanne Benjamin tells us exactly what kind of movie we're getting into. A bright yellow, jagged bubble-cursive firmly recalls R.L Stine's Fear Street series, or any Christopher Pike book published from 1985 to 1999, as fresh-faced park ranger Wendy (Karina Fontes) sprints to work, listening to Oingo Boingo on her headphones.

Wendy's a bit older than YA and Body at Brighton Rock isn't set in the '80s, but there's a very Pike/Stine mood here that Benjamin sustains with a sure hand and plenty of style. Wendy's the kind of heroine that will annoy audiences, because Hollywood perpetuates this stubborn myth that all of our leading ladies have to be hyper-competent and unfailingly tough. Wendy's always tardy, a little clumsy, a little goofy, and her best work friends (Emily Althaus and Brodie Reed) refer to her as "an indoor kid," though she happens to work at a decidedly outdoor job. When she volunteers to survey a trail normally reserved for the more experienced of her co-workers, no one thinks she can do it.

And, well, at first we can see why. Wendy gets lost, loses her map, breaks her communication equipment and bursts into tears in no time flat. (To be clear: I found all of this extremely relatable.) But her real trouble arises when she stumbles on a dead body right as the sun's setting. She's forced to spend the night in the woods with only this gross corpse and her thoughts for company, and we all see what Wendy's made of soon enough.

I love Wendy. I love the way she dances through the woods listening to '80s pop on her headphones, and I love the fact that she's a little bit of a space cadet. It's easy to say, "If I were in her situation, I would immediately secure the area, gather supplies and build a temporary shelter for myself," but honestly, if I were in my early 20s and lost in the woods, I'd probably do just what Wendy does: text selfies until my phone dies then take an anxiety nap.

Wendy's got a dark night of the soul ahead, and that's where Body at Brighton Rock shifts from being a fun and colorful throwback to something a little darker and deeper. Benjamin uses a piercing sound design and constantly shifting score (by The Gifted, who previously worked with the director on Southbound, XX, and Final Stop) to master that precise, singular feeling of being scared and alone. Your mind is no longer your own and your eyes are playing tricks on you. Every twig snapping or leaf rustling is a predator looming. Every shadow is a menace.

The film is so fun to look at, even in these darkest moments, thanks to Benjamin's strong sense of style and Hannah Getz's vivid, engaging cinematography. Every shot is thoughtful and visually appealing, from the moments where Wendy's shooting the shit with her friends in the office to those where she's trembling in terror in the woods. It's more suspenseful than outright scary, and the twisty payoff is one that might lose a lot of viewers, but feels like a note-perfect Christopher Pike nod – one that was especially satisfying to this Christopher Pike nerd.

But more satisfying is the fact that this is a movie that relies almost entirely on the small but relatable journey of a young woman on her own. Wendy faces a lot of scary stuff in Body at Brighton Rock, but the film's about her facing her own fear and tendency to underestimate herself above all else. We could use more stories like that.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10