MRR Review: "Black Rock"
on 2013-05-28 12:15
MRR Review: "Black Rock"
-- Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual situations, and brief nudity)
Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: May 17, 2013
Directed by: Katie Aselton
Female directors unfortunately lag behind male directors in terms of sheer statistics, and this is even truer in the horror genre. This is why Katie Aselton's horror thriller stands out from the crowd, at least when looking at the credits. The movie is somewhat unique in other ways too. In many horrors and thrillers, women end up running around in lingerie and screaming helplessly. This is a movie where the female characters aren't just running from B-movie monsters at a slumber party. Instead, they're three adult women who wear reasonable and realistic outfits and head out on a camping trip to bond with each other. In this way, "Black Rock" is a distant cousin of "The Descent" (2005), which also focuses on a group of women who encounter terror during what should be a bonding experience in nature.
Abby (Aselton) is heading out to a remote Maine island with two of her closest female friends, Sarah (Kate Bosworth) and Lou (Lake Bell). This isn't supposed to be the most relaxing trip. It becomes clear the women have some tensions and grievances between them, including a past dalliance between Abby's boyfriend and Lou. The idea is the secluded location will help Lou, Sarah, and Abby unwind from their busy schedules in the modern world and maybe find some measure of peace, both within themselves and as a group of friends. Sarah masterminds the whole idea as she has dreams of healing the rift between Lou and Abby and making the trio whole once again.
If "Black Rock" belonged to a much different genre, this wilderness outing could result in tearful confessions, group hugs, and sweeping nature shots. As it turns out, however, the three women aren't alone on the island. In the middle of their drinking and banter, the women run into some unexpected company. In an obvious parallel to their own group, Abby, Sarah, and Lou come across a group of three men who are out on a hunting trip. One of the men is Henry (Will Bouvier), a man they know from their past. This gives the women the reassurance they need to hold out an olive branch to Henry and his two pals, Alex (Anselm Richardson) and Derek (Jay Paulson).
For a while, the six adults behave like, well, adults, drinking and chatting around a campfire. Although Abby is married, she starts to flirt with Henry. One thing leads to another. What could be a moment of infidelity turns into something much darker when Henry pushes too far. In return, Abby pushes back, and all hell breaks loose. Now, the women just want to escape from the island with their lives. Unfortunately for them, the men have the upper hand. The ex-soldiers are no strangers to violence. As they try to figure out how to make it home in one piece, the three women draw on trust and courage they didn't even know they had. Still, it might not be enough to outsmart the men.
"Black Rock" takes some important cues from films such as "Deliverance" (1972). The movie explores the human survival instinct, with the women straddling the lines between hunted and hunters. "Black Rock" doesn't do anything particularly fresh, startling, or surprising, but it does offer a tense hour or so of suspense and violence.
Sometimes, the story is a little forced. Aselton doesn't forget the women's original purpose in coming to the island. The joining of brutal survival tactics and chats about past infidelities makes for a strange combination. At the same time, the gender issues and authentic "girl power" feel of the movie make it a unique one. The men in the movie aren't monsters, but they're deeply frightening in their own testosterone-driven way. Maybe the men are all the more scary because they brush so closely to realism, showing the extremes of machismo. The women are definitely not saints, but they're able to hold their own and do whatever it takes to survive. Sometimes, this pushes them into ambiguous territory.
The run time is short and the action takes a while to get started. Genre-savvy fans may grow bored with "Black Rock" since the outcome is fairly predictable. While not groundbreaking, the horror movie is a solid addition to movies about survival against all odds. Flaws aside, Aselton has made a name for herself in the thriller genre.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars