Director Roxanne Benjamin Talks Body at Brighton Rock [Exclusive]
Horror is a genre that has many different faces. Sure, the core idea is that these movies are always meant to be scary in some way, but different things scare different people. That said, it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t be terrified of having to spend a night trapped in the woods all alone with no method of communication and little to survive with. Throw a dead body in the mix and things become doubly unnerving. Such is the case with Body at Brighton Rock, the solo feature directorial debut from Roxanne Benjamin.
That’s not to say that Roxanne Benjamin is inexperienced. Not by a long shot. The filmmaker has flexed her skills behind the camera on a number of anthology horror flicks, such as XX and Southbound. She also served as a producer on the V/H/S franchise. Now, she’s stepping out on her own with Body at Brighton Rock, which debuted last month at SXSW in Austin, Texas.
Body at Brighton Rock centers on Wendy (Karina Fontes), a part-time summer employee at a state park. She takes on a difficult trail assignment to help out one of her friends, while also trying to prove to her co-workers that she’s capable of handling such a task. Unfortunately, she takes a wrong turn, ends up deep in the backcountry and stumbles upon a dead body. Stuck with no communication other than her unreliable radio, Wendy has to stay and guard the site, per her job. It turns into a long night deep in the wilderness and horror ensues.
I was lucky enough to chat with Roxanne Benjamin during her trip to SXSW. We talked not only about her new movie, but her remake of Night of the Comet, her work on the new Creepshow series for Shudder and more. Without further adieu, here’s the result of our chat.
First off, two-fold; congratulations and thank you for scaring the living s*** out of me. So how are you feeling? This is your first movie and it’s out in the world now. Where is your head at right now?
Roxanne Benjamin: It’s funny, the thing that I was most concerned about, as a filmmaker you kind of have to try and not think about the end product or how it will be received. Otherwise, you’ll get so caught up in your head. You’ll just freeze in a way. So you can’t really ever think about the audience when you’re making something creatively. Maybe some people can. I can’t. But I think the one thing I did think about is that all of the things I’ve done so far have been very strict horror and one specific thing. This is kind of like a YA, Jack London, Christopher Pike mash-up with like 70s and 80s influences, and like western themes of the individual versus nature. That sort of man alone must face their greatest odds. It’s so many things that I tried to pack into one thing that the question of, “would be people be along for the ride?” occurred to me quite a bit. There’s so many different ways that I can take the nugget of this idea of, you have to sit with a body all night in the woods that seem like very simple paths, that would be very obvious, plot-driven. Things that would be fun, but maybe boring creatively. So I wanted to try and do something a little out there with this, stylistically, that felt like more me. Which, I think it is. For better or worse.
It’s funny hearing you say some of that because I couldn’t even process any of it, because I was genuinely so scared. You’ve done some of these anthology movies before, but why was this your first solo feature?
Roxanne Benjamin: I had another movie that I was making that was like a bigger budget movie. I’ve made a movie every year since V/H/S. Every single year. So, putting this movie together, it had to rely on outside financing, not just from people I know. I was calling up our friends to be in it. You know, our normal route of production. It’s a longer process. The financing fell through kind of at the last second, and I was like, “I’m gonna lose my mind if I don’t make a movie this year.” I didn’t realize how much of a part of my sanity was tied up in that, working towards making something. So I just sat down and wrote it. Also, I haven’t told anyone this as part of the explanation, but you asked a question that actually brings it up naturally. I had a cat and a dog that had been with me for like 17 years. They both died in the course of like three months. And they had been with me through living in four different states. My dog was like my ride or die.
17 years is a long time for anything.
Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah. For anything!
If you live a long, good life, that’s a huge chunk.
Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah! So early with this movie, I sat down and started writing as soon as that happened. I felt like I was losing my mind. And so I sat down and started writing it almost to maintain my own sanity. Just sit down and write. I’d be losing it and I’d be like, I’ll just sit down and write. So I wrote it in like, three weeks and sent it to my producers, Soapbox Films, who I’ve worked with on a couple of movies now, XX and Southbound. So I sent it to them and they were like, “We’re down.” And I was like, “Great, let’s make it.” And they were like, “Okay.” Then I sent the script to Magnolia [Pictures] and they bought it off the script for worldwide distribution. So kind of before I had even finished putting the financing together it already had a distributor, which was great, going into it and knowing that it would have a home. And this is also my fourth movie with them. So it’s kind of like family.
In the beginning I wasn’t terribly sure when the movie was set. Then you see the smartphone and you’re like, “Okay, so it’s now.” But it feels, and I’m sure this was intentional, like an 80s flick. The 80s nostalgia wave is huge right now but for you, was that always part of it? Or did it end up as a happy coincidence that it felt like an 80s slasher flick, but not a slasher flick?
Roxanne Benjamin: It’s like a psychological slasher flick.
A little bit, yeah! That’s a good way to describe it.
Roxanne Benjamin: Honestly, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death is more of an influence than a lot of things. Rather than it being dark 80s synth. I don’t know, there was something about almost like a 70s TV movie that you would find taped on VHS in the 80s. Which is a weird thing to describe to a producer. “This is the kind of movie I want to make!” Luckily with Chris and Dave they were like, “That sounds great!” It took a long time getting our color grade right for that reason too. Almost technicolor is kind of what I was going for. These very poppy greens and blues out in the middle of nature, and crash zooms and stuff like that. It does feel more 70s than 80s to me. But then the 80s tonally is more of a Caddyshack opening. It’s kind of like Caddyshack with Benji the Hunted. I had a lot of references to Lassie and Old Yeller, with the whole dog thing. All of that had a very specific color palette. Some of the music seemed along those lines, where the character’s inner monologue is felt through the score and sound design. That’s the dialogue that’s happening with the audience is through the score and sound, since they’re very much a character, as much as she is on her own, to kind of put you in her headspace. It was definitely a choice to stay back away from her and then get very close up and have these experiences with her, then backed away in the middle of nowhere in this very observational space as well, so it was constantly balancing when we’re with her and when it’s in kind of this isolation.
It just felt like one big jump scare that never really relieved itself once it got going.
Roxanne Benjamin: Like life.
So you’re writing the Night of the Comet remake. Can you tell me anything about that? That as a remake, specifically, is fascinating to me. Are there talks of you possibly directing it as well?
Roxanne Benjamin: That’s the hope. I mean, I would love to direct it. I love that movie. And I wrote it in code so if they want the code, they’ll have to let me direct it. I actually turned it in already. It’s already done.
So can you tell me anything about your take and why you thought you were the right person to tackle this?
Roxanne Benjamin: I like making girl buddy movies. I’m really drawn to female relationships and the complexity of female relationships, and how they change. And how their interactions can be both, we’re like terrible to each other and then we’re loving to each other at the same time. I don’t know. It’s very complex, female relationships throughout your life. So that’s just fascinating to me, in terms of how that works within a horror or genre setting, and I don’t feel like we get that much out of our genre. It’s always, it’s the trope. It’s the final girl. It’s one girl on her own. Obviously, my movie has one girl, so I can’t knock those kinds of movies, but that relationship in a scenario of the end of the world is fascinating to me. And I love the movie, the first movie. There’s so many great one-liners in that movie. The visuals are amazing and for a B horror movie of the time, I’m always shocked when people don’t know about it, or haven’t heard of it. It’s very confusing to me because it’s like you said you’d never heard of Weekend at Bernie’s or something. I mean, most people have heard of that, right? It’s not just me. I’m very excited about the prospect of that becoming a real thing.
You’re also working on the new Creepshow. I’m sure you can’t say much but can you say how many episodes you’re directing or what you’re doing?
Roxanne Benjamin: There’s a lot of people involved in it who were involved in the original too, which is really cool. I actually just left there to come here and I’m going back there after here. It’s awesome. Working with Greg Nicotero is really cool and there’s a lot of history between the people who are working on it. You’re getting to hear all of these great stories of the production of the original [George A.] Romero films and how they all came together. It’s really cool to be a fly on the wall with these guys. And also just to benefit from their years of experience and production in the genre. It’s been awesome, it really has. I wish I could tell you more because it’s gonna be really cool.
Circling back, the ending sort of threw me a bit because I was just scared s***less and then I was like, “Oh, so that’s what happened?”
Roxanne Benjamin: Is it though?
That’s my thing. Without spoiling it, in the broad sense, what do you want, as a filmmaker, for people to take away from this experience?
Roxanne Benjamin: Mostly, making one story in one way, it wasn’t interesting to me to have it be one specific thing. So the challenge is how to meld a couple of different genres. One with a couple of different kinds of stories. Because life is all kinds of stories. It’s not just one narrative. There’s lots of other narratives happening at the same time. The question is, how much of this is her and how much of it isn’t? There’s a million different ways to interpret that, that don’t, for me, take away from the journey she’s been through. It’s more like, What’s in your head is not always in your head. It’s a little bit of that. And things are not always as they seem. I grew up reading Christopher Pike books and that was a huge influence because all of his books have that kind of element to them, where it’s not just one thing. It’s always a couple of different things that are going on. I feel, especially for genre folks, you’re all very savvy. Very much like, “I know where this is going. I see where this is leading.” So I wanted to do something that added different elements that aren’t just… things that if you went back and watched again, you’d see every little bit of it along the way, but that might not be so obvious the first time. It’s more interesting to me if you’re kind of figuring things out while you’re watching the movie, rather than just being like, “Well, in another ten minutes we’re going to get to this part.”
Just as we wrap up, is there anything you have coming up that you haven’t talked about yet? Or anything that you would like to do as a filmmaker that maybe you haven’t done yet?
Roxanne Benjamin: Oh man, I wanna make action movies. I wanna make like, John Wick movies. I am obsessed with John Wick. I am obsessed with making an action movie. Like a genre action movie with two female protagonists. That would be my dream.
Lionsgate does supposedly have that John Wick spin-off Ballerina in the works. Maybe give her a call when the time comes? Body at Brighton Rock is in select theaters and available via on-demand April 26 from Magnolia Pictures.