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Black Rock

2012 | 83 min | R | 1.85:1

Black Rock


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Theatrical release date

 17 May, 2013
 21 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States



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Black Rock


Screenshots from Black Rock Blu-ray

Black Rock Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, May 30, 2013

Exploitation cinema is rarely guided by women, making “Black Rock” something special in the often distasteful genre, which always seems to hold a remarkable amount of aggression toward female characters. However, don’t let director Katie Aselton fool you, as she’s crafted a roughhouse effort that serves up frenzied acts of intimidation and extreme violence. Unfortunately, she’s funneled such raw intensity into an unforgivably permissive picture, with hyperactive performances and thinly sketched screenwriting unraveling whatever highlights of terror manage to survive the viewing experience. The feminine approach is refreshing, but the novelty wears off quickly once a few of these actors decide to turn on the ham, making it difficult to buy much of what “Black Rock” is selling.

Hoping to reunite estranged friends Lou (Lake Bell) and Abby (Katie Aselton) after a sexual indiscretion tore them apart, Sarah (Kate Bosworth) has arranged a weekend camping trip on a remote island. While Lou and Abby display animosity towards each other, Sarah aims to break the ice with a quest inspired by “The Goonies,” finding maps that lead to a time capsule buried somewhere in the wilderness. On the journey, the trio is greeted by Henry (Will Bouvier), Derek (Jay Paulson), and Alex (Anslem Richardson), three ex-military men out to cool their fried PTSD minds with a hunting trip, unaware that anyone else is on the island. When Abby invites the men to an evening cookout, it becomes clear she’s interested in Henry, despite her married status. Inviting the eager man into the woods for a make-out session, Abby’s demands to stop are ignored, with the situation devolving into a sexual assault and soon murder when the frightened woman bludgeons Henry. Outraged, Derek and Alex decide to pursue Abby, Lou, and Sarah, hunting them down for punishment, leaving the terrified targets to figure out an escape plan without weapons or proper survival skills.

“Black Rock” isn’t a radical reinvention of exploitation cinema, but it has enough of a noticeable indie film curveball to celebrate. Scripted and co-produced by Mark Duplass, “Black Rock” carries the conversational style that’s defined his output as a writer/director, working with real-life wife Aselton to peel grim rigidity out such severe material. The relationships are thickly defined, studying Sarah’s attempts to bring her stubborn friends together with a weekend adventure, doing whatever she can, even lying about cancer, to convince Lou and Abby to play nice and work out their issues. Dialogue is free-flowing, merging improvisations with expositional exchanges, with Aselton laboring to create a history among the women that sets up distrust and confusion utilized later when the chase begins. The push for characterization is welcome, though the writing comes across desperate at times to make a human connection before rage sets in, making a few obvious moves with motivation, while speeding up Abby’s self-destructive tendencies to switch gears from emotional misery to physical threat.

Once “Black Rock” moves over to aggression, the film deflates due in great part to a wildly broad performance from Paulson as Derek, the most unhinged of the three soldiers who demands the heads of the women for their seductive and protective actions. Paulson goes uncomfortably big in a crucial role, all wild-eyed and screamy, crushing the haunted atmosphere of the movie with work that’s painfully artificial. While the rest of the cast is fighting uphill to sell the tension of the no-budget effort, at least there’s some restraint, even from the likes of Bell and Aselton, who are urged into a more feral role of self-preservation, even performing a section of the picture in the nude to reinforce vulnerability. Paulson registers false from the minute he speaks up, robbing “Black Rock” of a necessary antagonist that could keep the feature organically disturbing and menacing when Derek threatens the women with unspeakable plans of murder.

Running only 75 minutes, “Black Rock” is lean enough to prevent boredom with the mangled acting, finding the final act set aside for a bleak education in the mechanics of murder, while offering a few incidents of bloodletting to keep attention on the screen. Although Aselton and Duplass make a game attempt to underline the personalities of those involve, the climax of the feature is primarily abut suspense and comeuppance, pulling a visceral reaction out of the viewer. “Black Rock” isn’t managed to satisfaction, but there’s commendable ugliness to survey, with hopes that the filmmaker sharpens her design of doom for any future B-movie endeavors.

Starring: Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth
Director: Katie Aselton

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