BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK is writer, director, and producer Roxanne Benjamin’s new film. She has previously directed and written segments for the XX and Southbound anthology horror films, produced the V/H/S series of anthology horror films, and BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK is the first full feature that she wrote and directed.
Benjamin really knows and loves the horror genre and cinema and has set out to put her own unique stamp on it. She spoke with me for the release of BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK and it was great to find out more about her creative thought process while understanding more about this really terrific film that pokes holes in your expectations of just what awaits you in the theater.
I saw BODY AT BRIGHTON ROCK and found it to be really interesting. It was a movie that I thought was different from most and I really enjoyed it. I just wanted to tell you that right off the bat.
Roxanne Benjamin: Thank you. It has a very kind of simplistic premise and I did not want to go with an easily discernible direction, you know because I feel like you could take that premise and make a very obvious film from it. I wanted it to have a lot more twists and turns where you never quite know what’s happening. I hate movies where, like, ten minutes in you’re like, oh, yep, she’s gonna do this and this is gonna happen and then we’ll have the whole thing in the second act where she gets her shit together. Moviegoers are really savvy, particularly the horror and genre audience, so I wanted to try and do something that hearkened back to the old Giallos, where there’s always like seven different things happening and it’s like a little more fun and has that campy feel to it.
I was wondering what your influence was and it’s interesting that you say Giallo. Is that the reason that you wanted to do something that was a little different in the horror genre so you went with, say like, essentially, a smaller story?
Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah, I’m like an eighties kid who grew up on seventies movies, so it’s kind of like combining those two and also there were a lot of Westerns around my house when I was a kid because my dad was a big Western fan. There’s that sense of one character out on their own out against the elements, proving their worth, that I wanted to blend in too. If you’re making a movie at this kind of lower tier budget, you have the ability to be more experimental that I think you wouldn’t necessarily get away with on a larger budget. You’d have to make something that is much more formulaic, so it was kind of a fun challenge of can you blend all these tones together and make something feel coherent? Can you have an actor whose main action is really inaction? Her action is to do nothing and to not leave rather than to do something. Also, what are the stakes of a survival thriller where you don’t necessarily have a lot of threats to survival, it’s much more of a psychological survival? That you have to get there and just not let your mind get away from you. I spend a lot of time camping too and camping alone and every little thing that goes bump in the night is something horrific in your imagination. I just wanted to put people in that situation in real time, to just have to sit there on vigil with her and see how that played out.
That’s what I noticed about it, it seemed like really, the biggest danger was herself and her own mind and the fear that she brought out of herself.
Roxanne Benjamin: Which I think is a very real world thing. We have real fears and things that are just in our head and paralyze us from doing things and I wanted to have something that was almost like a folklore-ish tale that followed a more traditional folklore type story. Someone kind of goes through something and comes out on the other side and she can’t face the real world fears until she puts to rest her inner fears and if she hadn’t done that and been in that situation, then maybe she wouldn’t have survived the next day when –
When the big real-life fear shows up. It’s almost like she passed the test.
Roxanne Benjamin: Yes, exactly.
And achieving that level where, okay, now you can deal with the real danger.
Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah, and the ending twist, if you will, which is so funny because you know there are people who get it almost immediately, that see the rest of the film that way and there’s those who never saw it coming and it’s kind of like a, it doesn’t really matter if you did or didn’t thing. It’s much more of like playing back into that cheesy eighties ending of things that I wanted to play with. It’s almost like a Scooby Doo ending (laughs).
And also, there are those movies from that era, that kind of nature horror thing. I really liked that you did something that blended those threads but kind of took off on its own path as well. One thing I noticed is that you cast a lot of women and they are all right up front in the credits and I was in the theater clapping inwardly because it was a very nice thing to see.
Roxanne Benjamin: (laughs) It’s funny, there are a lot of these types of stories that I read as a kid that focused on male protagonists especially. I grew up on Jack London stories and I actually grew up in the Allegheny National Forest and I never saw myself in these stories but I wanted to. I was very much an outdoors kid – cut off all my hair and thought I had to be more masculine in order to fit these roles of these things that I saw myself as. Hopefully, that’s not as much the case today, but I want someone who is twelve to see this at a slumber party and feel like that’s them. That’s kind of what it’s for. It’s not necessarily for an older, straight horror audience. It’s more of a YA thriller to me, kind of a Christopher Pike book that I read as a kid.
I love that thought process that you seem to have with this, that you’re not putting this into the mainstream, you are deliberately making something for, say, an under-served audience.
Roxanne Benjamin: Yes, that’s the hope anyway. I always say it’s for girls, this is a movie for girls who fall down and say a specific word a lot. Say the F word a lot.
Hmm, I wonder what that word could be (kidding).
Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah, it’s the majority of her dialogue. I wanted someone who didn’t seem like they knew what they were doing and she makes a lot of boneheaded decisions. There’s oftentimes when we do that in life. Like, we ignore all the warning signs and we charge full steam ahead thinking that we can handle something and are prepared and when we’re not, we’re like, just kidding! Don’t actually want to be here, but you’re forced to go through it anyway. It’s facing those inner fears to be able to face those outer fears.
I think it’s a mistake that a lot of mainstream horror films make when they act like everybody is an authority and in that situation, they would know what they are doing and they probably wouldn’t.
Roxanne Benjamin: Oh yeah, totally. I mean, what’s really funny too is that I’ve had questions at Q&A’s where people ask what the bag in the tree is and it never occurred to me, because I grew up in the woods, that people wouldn’t know what a bear bag was. You put food and supplies up in the trees so that the bears can’t get to them if you are somewhere where there is heavy bear activity. In parks and stuff, it’s giant metal containers with handles because the bears were super smart and figured out how to open the easy open ones. They had to make handles that their paws couldn’t fit in. They’ll tear a car apart to get to a gum wrapper, you know, and it’s that kind of a thing. She gets that shit on her and becomes a moving target for the rest of the film and that’s what our dear friend is trying to keep her from becoming, but really, if he had just left her alone, she would have been fine. Which is another element of the movie that I hope people pick up on.
Yeah, the film has a lot of subtle layers and I think people will learn from it. Even if people don’t know what the bear bag is, I think it actually adds a layer of creepiness if they don’t know what it is.
Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah, I actually had it before where she cuts it down and opens it, but it just seemed a little too much to have that in there. It was just one thing too many that felt like, oh, you’re a real bonehead if you do this. Since she kind of poked at it and left a trail it’s why it gets torn down and that’s what we’re seeing in the middle of the night. It’s been torn down and torn apart and again, all the warning signs are there, but there’s this fear she has to handle in the middle of the night, sitting with the fear itself.
I think that is something that is also underserved in horror. How much of a problem that we give ourselves with the fear in our minds.
Roxanne Benjamin: It’s really just a survival thriller where there’s no real threat to her survival in the middle of the night and her action is inaction and how do you make that interesting? I’m making people sit in it in real time with her and hopefully, that comes across.
It really does and I think that’s kind of a hard task to give yourself, because if you just give yourself some monsters, obviously, there are certain things you can do or certain beats that you can hit that people react to almost automatically. You kind of had to find the way to make that not only interesting but actually scary.
Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah, that’s kind of the attempt to blend all these together. Again, you have producers like mine, at a lower budget like this, that will let you play a little more and be more experimental with it and try to figure that out because that is the challenge of the movie. It’s a chamber piece, for the most part, with just one actor and how do you make that scary? The threat to herself is really her and she has to overcome that, so that’s kind of one of the challenges.
I’m sure one of the challenges was shooting in the outdoors, even though I believe that you are already used to it.
Roxanne Benjamin: Oh God, I’m going to write the next movie in a nice house, in a nice mansion on the beach. I gotta quit writing these things out in the middle of the wilderness. Everything I write is like this and I guess it’s a thing.
How did you find the actress who was the lead? I really liked her a lot.
Roxanne Benjamin: Oh Karina [Fontes], she is really amazing. She is a model and she is a friend of one of my actresses in Southbound and we needed someone to play the dead band member. She’s in Southbound but she is very much like a presence, rather than a character. She’s the girl who isn’t there. She didn’t have a speaking role and I didn’t realize she really wanted to be an actress, so I had her do a table read for me for another project that I was doing. She came in and kind of knocked it out of the park. So then I wrote the movie with her in mind for that part because she has such an open vulnerability.
She has great qualities that worked perfectly for the role. I had so much sympathy and empathy for her. The things that she did that were not so smart made me mad, but that was because I actually cared.
Roxanne Benjamin: Good, good, good. That was another challenge, not providing a real character background for her and then just seeing if people would still empathize with her, so that’s great to hear!
BODY AT BRIGHT ROCK is now available on VOD and in theaters.