Black Rock

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/18/13 09:31:24

"Interesting people involved in an average thriller."
3 stars (Just Average)

When building a survival-in-the-wild thriller, most writers start with something like "Black Rock" and then add stuff - elaborate kills, extra plot twists, maybe some sort of weird backdrop. That's the usual path, but the makers of this movie come from an indie/minimalist background, so what they come up with is simple but quirky and kind of messy like their comedies and dramas. It's an odd combination of pro-grade talent and do-it-yourself technique.

Things start with friends Sarah (Kate Bosworth) and Louise (Lake Bell) heading to the small Maine town where they grew up for a weekend on an island where they used to camp as kids. Lou is surprised to see Abby (Katie Aselton) waiting for them; though the three used to be tight, there's a reason Abby and Lou haven't spoken in years. Sarah convinces them to stick around, and while seeing a group of hunters on the island is a bit of a surprise, Derek (Jay Paulson) is the kid brother of one of their old classmates and his buddies Henry (Will Bouvier) and Alex (Anslem Richardson) seem okay, if standoffish. That won't last.

Aselton directs and also supplied the story that husband Mark Duplass fleshed out into a screenplay, and that story is not complicated at all: What the audience can suss out about Sarah, Louise, and Abby in their first scene together is pretty much all they need to know, and the dynamic with the guys is even simpler. It's just enough to get things rolling and give the cast some room to work, but there's a difference between simple and oversimplified that Aselton and company generally stay on the right side of.

Things are simple enough to get boring or troublesome - it would be easy to make this movie into a statement on men, women, veterans, etc. That mostly doesn't happen because the cast does fairly well in giving their characters enough individuality that they're not representing more than themselves. Kate Bosworth gives her character a well-meaning enthusiasm, for example, while Lake Bell and Katie Aselton give Lou and Abby complementary forms of resentment, though happily not all-consuming. They all do fairly well when their characters are put under pressure and, winding up quite believable as people in more danger than they can really comprehend. The men aren't given the same sort of spotlight, but even though they're all the same type, they are written and played quite differently.

That fairly decent character work is just about enough to balance out that as a thriller, the movie can't offer much that the genre audience hasn't seen before. Kudos to the ladies for showing that they've taken some hits, perhaps - a lot of exploitation-oriented movies of this type would keep them looking pretty. Along those lines, it's sort of interesting how different (and kind of weird) the nudity in this movie feels under Aselton's direction - the way she seems to drain the salaciousness from it is noteworthy, although at a certain point it's so noticeably extended and played unsexy that one might worry she's trying to make a point about the genre rather than just telling the story. Sex aside, the violence has an understated nastiness to it, with the lack of elaborate staging or unusual weaponry making it less "fun" but making it easier for Aselton to use it to tell the story. Even the grisly parts are a bit muted, although some bits - like the scene where things first start getting nasty - are very nicely handled.

Aselton and company prove more than capable there, and at least adequate throughout. As a relatively short feature that takes some time establishing its characters before getting to the action, "Black Rock" does well enough, and it's interesting to look at it in terms of how it's different for being so female-driven. Just as an example of the killers-in-the-woods subgenre, it sort of serves as a benchmark for that type of movie: Do less than this, or do it less well, and you've made a bad movie; but you've got to try and do more to make your movie stand out.

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