Is there anything worse than a thriller that doesn’t thrill? Well, I’m pretty sure you can think of things comparable and worse, but it still ranks pretty low. Katie Aselton’s Black Rock is such a film. It wants to get your blood pumping, it wants to have you caught up in the narrative, but these things it cannot do because it’s what is known as a “by the numbers” film where the audience is always two steps ahead of the characters. You know what they’re going to do before they do it, even if it’s a really bad decision. As you can imagine, this doesn’t exactly make for a particularly engrossing experience.
The film follows the story of three women, Abby (Katie Aselton), Lou (Lake Bell), and Sarah (Kate Bosworth), who come together to go on vacation to a small, remote island. Two of them aren’t exactly getting along (one slept with another’s boyfriend a few years ago), but they decide to make the best of it and try to enjoy their trip. While on the island, they’re surprised to come across three former Army soldiers, Henry (Will Bouvier), Derek (Jay Paulson), and Alex (Anslem Richardson), who are on the island to do a bit of hunting.
The women invite them to dinner where they strike up conversation about everything from their families to the guys’ days in the Army. A drunken Abby continually flirts with Henry, which eventually leads her to tempt him into the woods for a little encounter. However, when he decides to attempt rape, she smacks his head with a rock, causing his death shortly after. From then on, the three women have to fend for their lives against his angry friends, whose lives he saved during their service together.
Starting from the beginning, this is a film that becomes irritatingly obvious in its path. The two characters bickering about one sleeping with the other’s boyfriend tells you right away that they’re going to be forced to work together later on when things get rough, and shockingly, when they get into trouble, there they are banding together to save their lives. Take another example: the obvious first thought for someone in this situation would be to get to their boat as soon as possible for escape. Their first mistake involves waiting until night to try, then the fact that they try at all given the certainty that their enemies would be watching for that very attempt. But guess what? They try anyway, with the results that anyone would see coming.
All such things serve to do is to take one out of the story. While the filmmakers should be building suspense, getting us involved in the plight of these three women as they fight for their lives, the audience is instead sitting back laughing at characters that are dumber than usual and waiting for them to do what needs to be done. That vital emotional connection is missing that would allow us to care about the outcome.
A lot of the trouble can be traced right back to the screenplay by Mark Duplass (from a story by Katie Aselton), writer of such well-received films as Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Cyrus. He’s crafted a rather simple thriller, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as we’ve had some outstanding thrillers that have been quite simple, but it shouldn’t be so simple as to allow the audience to be so far ahead of the characters. Nor should it be at the level of a bad horror film, where we expect the characters to be making idiotic decisions that could endanger their lives.
The performances are admirable, but not particularly effective. They come across as knowing that this material is beneath them. It’s interesting though. The leading ladies make such a hubbub over how the film is about empowering women as they fight against these vicious men who want nothing more than to kill them, and yet, they have no problem with how dumb it makes their characters appear? Well, as long as they’re happy I suppose.
There really wasn’t any reason that this couldn’t be a tight, effective thriller. Another draft or two could have had these characters developed into more believable people doing more believable things, and in effect, surprising the audience instead of letting them see events before they happen. There was no need for them to settle for something standard and predictable, but I guess for some filmmakers that’s good enough.
The film itself is presented in a 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that’s a little grainy at times. A lot of the film takes place at night, so there are a lot of shadows to contend with, but the quality is fair overall. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is clear for the most part, though you may need to turn it up for much of the second half given the women’s tendency to whisper very softly during their attempt to remain stealthy, but it’s likewise decent.
As far as special features go, it comes with the following:
- Audio Commentary with Director/Actor Kate Aselton and Actor Lake Bell
- Behind the Scenes of Black Rock
- A Thrilling Score: The Music of Black Rock
Starting with the commentary, a sampling shows that Aselton and Bell don’t have many interesting insights into the making of the film, which is surprising given that one of them directed the film and both of them starred in it. The Behind the Scenes extra is a semi-interesting “making of” featurette that features interviews with most of the actors and crew, who give us their thoughts on the film. The final featurette takes a look at composing the score with composer Ben Lovett and how it was put together. If you find the music to be an intriguing element of the film, then you’ll probably enjoy it. The strange thing to note is that this featurette is longer than the “making of.” Was the music really the more interesting aspect here? I wouldn’t think so.
Overall, these special features just aren’t anything to get excited about. In fact, the same can be said of the film itself. One of its few saving graces is that it’s incredibly short, running only about 75 minutes, but there are still enough faults in those 75 minutes to bring it down to the level of a forgettable, oversimplified thriller. Black Rock simply isn’t worth even that short amount of time.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.