Review: 'Black Rock' A Back-To-The-Wilds Slasher With Brains & Bonding To Go With The Blood

Reviews
by James Rocchi
May 14, 2013 5:10 PM
6 Comments
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There is, ultimately, something to be said for the pleasures of a simple, sleek and well-shot run-or-kill-or-die thriller. The sort of film where the heroes are trapped in the middle of nowhere and find themselves threatened by hostile locals, and must then strike back to survive. At heart that's what "Black Rock," the second directorial effort from Katie Aselton, is, no more, no less. If you're hoping for a transcendent reinvention of the form, keep moving. If you're looking for a film like Aselton's erotic, neurotic and superbly acted "The Freebie," pass along. If you're looking for a well-executed example of a sub-genre with a Y-chromosome inflected plot and script, not as good as "Deliverance," but far better than a host of similarly-constructed films with bigger budgets and smaller IQs, you'll probably appreciate what "Black Rock" offers. 

Based on a story by Aselton -- and a script by her frequent collaborator and husband, Mark Duplass -- "Black Rock" begins as three old friends meet. Sarah (Kate Bosworth) is driving her pal Lou (Lake Bell) up to the coastal Maine town they grew up in to camp on the island they used to love as kids. Sarah has also invited Abby (Aselton), but the trick is that Lou and Abby hate each other -- years ago, a brief moment of infidelity and betrayal destroyed what they had. But the three soon fall back into easy rhythms, the long-standing feud between Abby and Lou soon giving way -- or at least lightly covered -- by the even longer-standing friendship between the three of them. They have Spaghetti-o's and a bunch of liquor and a map to the time capsule they all buried when they were 10. It's going to be fun.

It seems like even more fun when three hunters show up, Henry (Will Bouvier), Derek (Jay Paulson) and Alex (Anselm Richardson). The girls went to school with Henry's older brother, so they feel fine, even as the guys explain they're freshly back from three tours split between Iraq and Afghanistan, returning with a dishonorable discharge after a mere 18 days. Then Abby drunkenly makes a pass at Henry, and Henry goes too far, and then Derek and Alex want to kill the girls for what they've done.

Just as in "The Freebie," Asleton has assembled a terrific team. Cinematographer Hillary Speara makes the island beautiful and terrifying, and manages to shoot nighttime scenes that are just the right kind of fake -- clear enough for things to be seen, dark enough for things to be scary. As for the performances, they're excellent -- and another reminder that, judged against its fellow films in its field, and not some of the more serious-minded films at Sundance 2012, "Black Rock" stands out. (Then again, the mainstream slasher -- usually seen as a remake, usually backed by Michael Bay -- has become a fairly debased currency.)

Bell's wide, animated face serves her well in the light comedy when the three friends are reuniting, and crimps down to something scared and scary when the guns come out. Bosworth, who big Hollywood never quite seems to know what to do with, gets to play a woman with a good heart and bad intent at the same time. Aselton gets to go on a similar curve -- audiences who know her only from her loopy, hilarious turns on "The League" will be startled, and gratified, to learn just how frighteningly strong she looks hissing out threats and promises through a mouth smeared with blood.

Some more strident and narrow-minded horror fanatics -- not fans, but fanatics -- will possibly find "Black Rock" too talky, or not violent enough. Then again, character development and establishment of relationships has never been too much of a priority for non-judgmental horror junkies who are, traditionally, more interested in seeing a woman's heart or mind in a clenching hand or on a sharpened blade than actually understanding said woman's heart or mind. At the same time, Aselton doesn't strain to underline or highlight the subtext with droning speeches or heavy-handed clumsiness, getting in, getting on with it and getting out in a crisp and chilly 83 minutes. "Black Rock" isn't going to become the sort of classic that "Deliverance" was, but if you like your scares smart, and like them to happen to people you actually care about, then Aselton's island of friendship and fury is a nice place to visit. [B-]

This is a reprint of our review from the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. "Black Rock" opens in theaters on Friday, and hits VOD the same day.

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6 Comments

  • darci | May 28, 2013 6:03 PMReply

    So this movie was an average horror/thriller with no real new twists or elements brought to the genre. Definitely worth a watch, but I wouldn't go expecting a high quality film - the script is just too stale, despite some really good acting from the three leads (Lake Bell in particular surprised me with her acting ability).

    The best part of this movie was probably the eerie soundtrack, which was done by film score vet Ben Lovett - the soundtrack really provided some nice backdrop to long shots and tension to the suspenseful scenes, I hope this guy does more work in horror/slasher/thriller films in the future.

  • E | May 18, 2013 8:21 PMReply

    "Bosworth, who big Hollywood never quite seems to know what to do with". What were they supposed to do with her? She's pretty, but not that good of an actress.
    As for the movie, looks like something I'll enjoy as long as I keep my expectations low.

  • Jeff | May 17, 2013 1:16 AMReply

    This film is a hideous piece of shiat. This review HAD to be written by an A1 steak sauce pussy. The type that only can say two words..."yes ma'am". This film is such feminist schlock and is as predictable as an otter pop on a summer day. If the men in this movie were REALLY military killers, as they profess to be, these women would have been dead in the first half hour of the film. Instead we have an episode of the three stooges. The reviewer here seems to think this movie has some sort of Einstein type iq when it's much more accurate to compare it to ones sleeve size. The reviewer of this film HAS to be the brother or father of either the husband or wife that created this abhorrently moronic script. I think it's the first positive review i've read for this joke of a film...Mr. Rocchi needs to read some of those other reviews to REALLY see what this film is about.

  • Brad | May 15, 2013 7:19 AMReply

    I am stoked for this movie. Going to be watching it on I-Tunes this weekend. Katie Aselton, is amazing, and she has gathered an amazing cast. Looks awesome.

  • NewYorker | May 14, 2013 5:47 PMReply

    looks cool. plus it has my crush Kate Bosworth.
    the film sort of reminds me of the film i got on dvd
    And Soon The Darkness.

  • j | May 15, 2013 7:41 AM

    And Soon the Darkness (the remake that is) was one of the most pointless films I've ever had the misfortune of watching. I'm sure this will be better than that.

    Did you hear the one about how the reason Kate Bosworth never cracked Hollywood is because she had an affair with Chris Martin from Coldplay, and so Gwyneth conspired to have the system shut her out? Love it.

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