The Film: Black Rock (2013)
The Principles: Written by Mark Duplass. Directed by Katie Aselton. Acted by Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth, Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson and Anslem Richardson.
The Premise: Three childhood friends (two of which are estranged) head back to their childhood haunt on a deserted island to reconnect while searching for a time capsule they left there as kids. As the women hike around the island, they stumble across three hunters who have been back from serving in Afghanistan for just 2 weeks and don’t seem quite ready to fit back in with the world. When one of the women gets flirty and one of the guys gets violent, a man ends up dead and his two buddies decide they might get more enjoyment from hunting something human across the island.
Is it Good? Aspects of it are good, but as a whole it is a bit of a let-down. I am in love Katie Aselton and have been ever since the first episode of The League, so when I read she was directing a thriller with her husband Mark Duplass doing scripting duties, I was excited to say the least. I guess I expected some of their originality and, dare I say, quirkiness, to rub off on the genre and thus creating a take on Deliverance that I hadn’t seen before. In regards to direction, Aselton is excellent with the pacing and tension, but this movie feels like it could have come from anyone instead of from two people I have such great respect for. They don’t add anything new to the genre, only add another movie to the pile of middle-of-the-road\sub-par thrillers we’ve been getting for years now
I think the biggest problem with the film is the characterization of the men. Their only defining trait is that they are newly returned to the States from Iraq/Army vets who were in some hairy combat just a few weeks ago. The “leader” of the three guys seems shy and friendly, but when he goes off and follows Aselton into the woods, he’s instantly a sexually violent man. I know in reality people can shift like that, but cinematically it just doesn’t work. After Aselton bashes his brains out with a rock, his two friends become psycho-killer non-entities that are so arch and evil, it actually undercuts the tension instead of adding to it. The three villains needed to be human beings with layers and instead they are sinister dialogue spouters with shifty eyes and +5 resistance to stabbings. Since the characterization of the three women feels so lived in and authentic, it’s a shame more time couldn’t be spent adding some colors to the baddies.
The final showdown between the ladies and psychopaths is so melodramatic and ridiculous that you’ll find yourself laughing at how over-choreographed the entire sequence is. But when you try and just focus on the characters and their motivations, then all you can see is how stupid and brainless they start acting. If you see a moment in the film where all of the danger could be ended in seconds, the script will find a way to make the characters slip into some kind of stoned retardation where the right choice is always the furthest from their mind. People talking loudly while they’re supposed to be hiding, dropping weapons when they should be using them for stabbing, standing up when there’s a sniper about: all of these things and more just start burrowing underneath the skin until you start yearning for some closing credits. The movie is better than that, but flaws tend to be all that you can focus on after awhile.
Random Anecdotes: Katie Aselton and Lake Bell are both fantastic in this. They could really have a career as scream queens if they get sick of the whole comedy thing.
The funding for this movie was crowdsourced. That’s a word now.
Is It Worth A Look: At 79 minutes, Black Rock is definitely a breeze to get through, but there’s really not a whole lot here. I’d say it’s worth watching for Katie Aselton and Lake Bell’s work, but if you’re not fans of theirs, then this movie really has nothing to offer you aside from a few tense moments.
Cinematic Soulmates: The Most Dangerous Game, Trespass, Deliverance, Surviving the Game, Hard Target, I Spit on Your Grave, Last House on the Left.