There were two great take-aways from the horror classic “The Blair Witch Project.”
One was the faux veracity of “found footage,” which ratcheted up the fear that “This really happened, and their footage was all that’s left!” Yeah, we knew better, but the movie, as executed, put that in doubt, at least while we were watching it.
The other was the story’s inherent comedy. Film school nerds who know all about lenses and framing a shot, but not diddly squat about how to get by in the woods. That seemed to speak to and of a generation that was technically savvy, but a little lost in the “real” world.
That’s where “Body at Brighton Rock” lives, a young park ranger, perpetually tardy and utterly lost without her phone, stuck in the bear/wolf/coyote and who-knows-what woods of a state park somewhere in the Mountain West.
It’s a creepy, cleverly staged thriller built around our Gen Y-er in Jeopardy, out of her depth in the remote woods of a very big piece of near-wilderness.
Writer-director Roxanne Benjamin doesn’t reinvent the genre or subgenre here. But she’s damned good at reminding us of how frightening what we don’t know can be, how scary the dark is and how fear itself is its own self-perpetuating terror.
Wendy (Karina Fontes) is our young ranger-in-training, late to morning briefings, skilled in “handing out brochures, tells kids to not start fires” — that kind of “ranger.”
A more woodswise co-worker (Emily Althaus) wants to swift duties on this given fall day. Wendy isn’t her first choice.
She remembers the time a “spider made you jump,” would prefer to give her warning-sign update work way ou on Hitchback Ridge to somebody “tougher,” more “hardy” another co-worker offers.
“You’re an indoor kid, right?”
Wendy’s blithe declaration that she’s “just as qualified” as they are earns a “Your funeral!”
“It’s just a walk in the woods. How hard can it be?”
There are all these warning signs around the place, “Never hike alone,” “Stay warm and safe.”
And then there are the unwritten “signs.” Slashes on trees, weird noises.
Watch your step! Hang onto that map!
It’s when she gets off the trail, at the furthest distance from park HQ, that Wendy is truly tested. There’s a dead man, and not a fresh body either, at the bottom of a cliff.
What does she do?
Break out the radio, call it in. “Secure the area, and hold tight.”
First responders are on the way. Or will be, you know, at the crack of dawn.
Radio protocol doesn’t include Wendy’s gut response — “No f—–g way!”
“It’s just me and him. Me and uh, the body.”
The crackling voices on the other end of the radio are skeptical and annoyed that it is Wendy left with this responsibility. And she doesn’t disappoint.
“Don’t disturb anything” as this might be a “crime scene” means Wendy disturbs things — the body, the bear bag (hanging your food from a tree), the empty tent.
“You should be fine…for one night” isn’t reassuring to a 20something who has trouble making a fire for herself, who panics at every weird noise she hears.
And then, a stranger shows up.
“Body at Brighton Rock” finds its frights in the real and unreal, and most effectively in the dark, when we really can’t tell the difference.
Benjamin rolls out threats we see coming and those that take us with as much surprise as they do Wendy. Fontes makes us believe she’s proud enough to put up a brave front, dedicated to her duty, but easily spooked and genuinely rattled at everything that’s happening.
It’s not edgy enough to join the ranks of indie horror classics, but “Body at Brighton Rock” is a solidly just–scary-enough thriller that reminds us that it’s not “found footage” that makes us jump, it’s things that shriek in the pitch black night.
80s ish guitar pop by The Gifted
MPAA Rating:R for language and some bloody images
Cast: Karina Fontes, Casey Adams, Emily Althaus and John Getz
Credits: Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin. A Magnolia/Magnet release.
Running time: 1:28