Earlier this year I reviewed Austin Chick’s Girls Against Boys, a mean-spirited gender hating flick with little value and a misguiding name as there was never really a battle. When I read the title Girls Against Boys, I actually imagined a movie more along the lines of Katie Aselton’s Black Rock, a true boys versus girls fight for survival penned by “Mumblecore” aficionado Mark Duplass. It’s very much the type of horror you’d expect from Duplass, finding terror in an incredibly (alright, somewhat) realistic scenario, but fans of the Duplass brothers will definitely see their independent influence permeating Aselton’s second directorial feature. Though Aselton has had a pretty busy career thus far, most of you will probably know her as Jenny in The League – but Black Rock is a definite departure from the wisecracking wifey us Fantasy Football fans know and love.
Also featuring Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth, Black Rock follows friends Abby (Aselton), Lou (Bell) and Sarah (Bosworth) as they plan to mend their three-way relationship and channel the good old days of their care-free childhood by spending some time camping on an island off the coast of Maine. Turns out they aren’t the only ones enjoying the great outdoors though, as they run into Henry (Will Bouvier) and his two army buddies who are on a little hunting trip. Drinking and chatting the night away, Abby sneaks away with Henry for a little romantic encounter, but when Henry scares her and things become dangerous, Abby is forced to strike him over the head with a rock for her own safety. Looks like Abby packs quite the punch though, because Henry ends up dying and his friends are none too please. Black Rock then takes us on the most violent game of hide-and-seek ever as our female protagonists run for their lives from Henry’s vengeful military buddies who want nothing more than to make these woman pay for the death of an American hero.
Simplicity and efficiency remains the strongest point of Black Rock, providing a previously mentioned hide-and-seek type chase ala a hint of Deliverance (I know this movie is referenced in every Black Rock review, but it’s a valid point). Girls find boys, girl kills boy, boys menacingly chase girls, girls fight back in an attempt to leave the island alive – it’s all rather simple. The terror is revenge, the horror is in humanity, but moments of inescapable boredom exist even though Aselton’s film only runs for 83 minutes. Hell, boredom and Maine go hand in hand though, what did you expect?
Tension and savage ferocity ultimately don’t rule all in Black Rock, as there’s too much relying on recycled genre points and too much time is spent on establishing our three female characters stereotypical “friends on the brink rekindling the fires of friendship through unfathomable hardships” arc. This is where Duplass’ “Mumblecore” influence is seen bright as day, as characters often stop to talk and take time to explain emotional breakthroughs in moments which ignore the survivalist mentality. I absolutely love Duplass’ catalog of work and admire his talent to craft brutally honest, real cinema out of mundane life occurrences, but Black Rock unfortunately doesn’t showcase his usually solid scriptwriting – possibly because Duplass’ usually comedic side isn’t allowed to appear.
In the husband versus wife battle of writer versus director, Aselton emerges as the victor for drawing on strong performances from Bosworth, Bell, and herself while setting each scene her hubby has provided on paper. For as predictable and flat as these characters are, Bell and Aselton specifically put forth very real, vulnerable, and aggressive performances that help the short run time of Black Rock flow along nicely, even if it does seem a tad silly at times that some future housewives could outwit and outman a group of ex-militants. Calling upon very primal instincts of pure adrenaline pumping survival, our females aren’t afraid to venture great lengths to stay alive, shown by a very out of place and surprising fully nude scene that includes Bell and Aselton galavanting around the forest in the dead of night, but such acts ground Black Rock with a gritty, raw, thrilling atmosphere that draws upon The Most Dangerous Game and other films which depict humans becoming the hunted.
For as methodical and cookie-cutter Black Rock is, Aselton could have produced a much worse movie and an entirely more painful watch. While there’s no denying creativity and originality are at a minimum, extremely earthy performances by the female cast help the short run time appear even shorter, and the hunt is over before you know it. While this might not always be a good thing, the ideas in motion don’t require a multitude of scenes or elongated run times, embracing the “less is more” mentality which is absolutely necessary to make Aselton’s film watchable. Black Rock is a revenge flick which wastes no time getting to its meat and potatoes material, be it a tasteless portion which barely satiates grumbling genre stomachs.