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Three childhood friends set aside their personal issues and reunite for a girls' weekend on a remote island off the coast of Maine. One wrong move turns their weekend getaway into a deadly fight for survival.
For more about Black Rock and the Black Rock Blu-ray release, see Black Rock Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on July 28, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Director: Katie Aselton
Writers: Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton
Starring: Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth, Jay Paulson
» See full cast & crew
Black Rock Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, July 28, 2013
John Boorman's Deliverance was awash in testosterone, filtering a male bonding experience through a filter of degradation, moral shades of gray and an ultimate fight for survival. James Dickey's original novel may have been a bit more elegiac than Boorman's visceral film adaptation, but it, too, was suffused with an almost palpable masculinity, albeit masculinity that suddenly had to question what exactly it meant to be a man. So, give director (and star) Katie Aselton her due. She approaches a Deliverance like setup from a resolutely feminine viewpoint, but this is not the blushing, demure womanhood of yesteryear. This is the "no means no", resolute "grrrl power" post-Feminine Mystique woman who should be able to stand up to any man. So why do the women in Aselton's Black Rock keep doing so many stupid things? That's one of the discordant issues that repeatedly keeps the film from being as scary, or perhaps even as meaningful, as it might have otherwise been. How refreshing it could have been to have seen women outsmart predatory males, especially since at its core this isn't so much about the war between the sexes as it is, like Deliverance itself, a story about pure survival. Black Rock is also oddly reminiscent of the 2010 Korean horror film Bedevilled, which, like Black Rock, posited a female protagonist on an isolated island which might have seemed like a paradise, but which in fact turned out to be at least purgatory, if not outright hell. Also like Bedevilled, Black Rock ultimately lapses into such hyperbolic intensity that, while it admittedly may leave some viewers reeling from the shock value, becomes almost cartoonish as a result.
Part of what gave Bedevilled its incredibly visceral power is that it posited a main female character who was so severely abused that it was almost a relief when she finally snapped, going on a murderous rampage that left her island a scene of bloody carnage. By comparison, Black Rock gives us three childhood friends who have grown distant due to a relatively recent betrayal (more about that in a moment), who find themselves the prey of two lunatic Iraq war vets who basically instantly go off the deep end when one of the women inadvertently kills their buddy when the guy tries to put the moves on her. This quantum leap in tone is one of the most ridiculous elements of Black Rock, and it threatens the entire mood of the film. Black Rock is not a long enterprise (clocking in at only about an hour and twenty minutes or so), and Aselton and screenwriter Mark Duplass (Aselton's significant other) would have done much better to have spent more time setting up the veterans' back story, something that they at least attempt to do with regard to the women in the film.
The tension between Abby and Lou finally explodes as the three are hunting for an old childhood fort and time capsule they had buried there. It turns out Lou had slept with Abby's fiancé, putting the kibosh on that relationship and Abby has never forgiven her. The two have a screaming match in the woods which Sarah attempts to mediate (unsuccessfully), and the three make their way to a campsite unhappily. There Sarah tries to get Lou to see how deeply she's hurt Abby, and Lou is about to apologize (evidently for the umpteenth time) when the three women are badly startled by three male hunters who appear at the crest of a hill. It turns out the women recognize one of the hunters, Henry (Will Bouvier), since they evidently went to school with his brother.
Things seem to be perfectly normal, with the guys joining the gals for a campfire and storytelling, including the wartime remembrances of the three guys, but things soon get more dangerous when Abby, evidently still nursing her wounds over having been jilted (and, as she's also divulged, leaving her current husband), starts to flirt rather openly with Henry. The two take off for a more secluded spot where Henry asks her if she wants to "have fun". She actually begins to agree, then thinks better of it, ultimately trying to get Henry off of her. He gets very angry and begins to try to rape her. Abby picks up a nearby rock and clobbers him in the head, killing him. Her screams bring the rest of the islanders to the scene, where Black Rock just goes completely off the rails as Henry's buddies, especially Derek (Jay Paulson), who simply goes from zero to sixty on the insanity scale within about a nanosecond, punching the women and getting his rifle out to shoot them.
Without spending too much time discussing potential spoilers, the rest of Black Rock plays out as a cat and mouse game between the men and the women. Needless to say, not everyone makes it out alive. But there's simply not enough development here to warrant the carnage that ensues, and some cynics may decry the central plot conceit —however well intentioned in its own feminist way it may be—that Abby decides midway through a mutual seduction that she doesn't want to go any further. This may be a politically incorrect thing to bring into the equation, and it certainly doesn't excuse Henry's violent response, but there's a certain moral ambiguity here that tends to blur the lines of who is guilty of what. Indeed, maybe that's part of what Duplass and Aselton wanted to convey, though my hunch is their real motivation is to simply state that a woman gets to draw the line whenever and however she chooses.
But even putting aside this particular qualm, the film is just downright silly after awhile, with the women doing a number of inexplicable things (no matter how panicked you were, would you jump into the ocean in the middle of the night to swim to a far away boat, and then, failing to do that, remove all of your clothing?). Then, to make matters worse, they devolve into atavistic she-women who are suddenly able to Rambo-fy their nemeses in some patently silly sequences.
Black Rock has some undeniably effective moments, but they tend to be overly contrived and built out of pure shock value than any real connection to character. The women in fact are mostly ciphers here, despite the initial attempts to fill in a little of their histories. With the men portrayed as little more than murderous beasts, that leaves two sets of symbols running through an island forest, without much meaning attached to them.
Black Rock Blu-ray, Video Quality
Black Rock is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. This digitally shot feature pops really well during the daytime sequences, though there are some minor noise issues with regard to some of the dense foliage, but the nighttime scenes suffer from pretty bad murkiness to the point that it's completely unclear what's going on at times. Aselton seems to have color graded a few sequences (unless the Maine weather was really gray), but fine detail isn't compromised by those choices. She also favors close-ups quite a bit of the time, where fine detail is commendable.
Black Rock Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Black Rock's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is very consistently immersive, with a wealth of ambient environmental sounds nicely creating a "woodsy" atmosphere. Dialogue is very cleanly presented, and there's some well done directionality here as well (note the ambience differences when Aselton contrasts extreme close-up moments with far away characters). Fidelity is excellent and dynamic range is quite wide, especially as the film goes along and gets into more violent territory.
Black Rock Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Black Rock Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If Black Rock had spent a bit more time in its development phase, it probably would have been a much more effective film. While the women are given a little back story, it's ultimately not enough. So, Lou cheated with Abby's fiancé —so what? Or at least, so what else? You can't build an entire film on one moment of revelation, especially when it doesn't provide much in the way of insight into the characters. That fact that the guys don't even warrant that much information only adds to the problem. There are a few scattered scares in Black Rock, but they're manufactured ones. This Blu-ray does offer excellent video and audio.
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Black Rock Blu-ray, News and Updates
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For the week of July 30th, Paramount is releasing G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which satisfyingly sequelizes G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Other releases include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season Four and a standalone version of the series' "Redemption" two-parter, ...
• Black Rock Blu-ray (Updated) - May 23, 2013
Lionsgate Films will bring to Blu-ray director Katie Aselton's second feature film Black Rock (2012), starring Kate Bosworth, Katie Aselton, and Lake Bell. Based on a script by Mark Duplass, Black Rock will be available for purchase on July 30th.
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