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.
Feeling a whole lot like a female version of “DELIVERANCE”, Director (& star) Katie Aselton’s “BLACK ROCK” tries very hard to separate itself from the standard “Women in Distress” film that you’re more than familiar with already. But with a predictable story written by Mark Duplass (Aselton’s husband) and some extremely unlikable characters it failed in doing much of anything except bore me to tears.
Aselton plays Abby, friend to Sarah (Kate Bosworth) and former friend to Lou (Lake Bell). The friendship between Abby & Lou deteriorated after Lou was caught sleeping with Abby’s then boyfriend. Sarah decides to bring the three of them together to spend a weekend camping out on a secluded island (the “Black Rock” of the title) in order to enjoy the “luxury of living” for awhile and repair the broken bond between her two friends. Once they arrive on the island the film takes a little time to formally introduce us to each of them and give us an idea of each of their characters, but not much. Sarah keeps her head in the clouds, Lou feels badly about what happened between herself and Abby but doesn’t apologize for her actions & Abby’s upset that she’s sharing air with Lou so she separates herself from the group for a while.
Until they run into a trio of hunters led by Henry (Will Bouvier) who just so happens to recognize Lou from high school. They’re on the island hunting deer and plan to eat what they kill but since they haven’t had much luck they’re pretty hungry. Abby invites them to share in their bounty of Spaghetti-O’s and beer over a cozy campfire and the hungry trio agrees to join them. Later in the evening the girls learn that the trio of men are former G.I.’s who’ve been dishonorably discharged from the army. While Henry gets up to follow a drunk (& flirtatious) Abby into the woods as she goes off ostensibly to relieve herself, the other two vets, Alex (Anslem Richardson) & Derek (Jay Paulson) tell Lou and Abby how they owe their lives to Henry because of his actions while in combat. In the meanwhile, Henry and Abby are making out in the woods when Abby falls down, clunking her head on a tree with Henry on top of her. She’s a bit dazed but has enough of her wits about her to ask Henry to get up, he refuses and begins to force himself on her which leads to Abby managing to grab a rock and accidentally kill Henry with it while struggling to get free from him.
The others hear Abby’s screams and when Alex and Derek find their best friend dead they automatically assume that Abby somehow lured him to his death. Abby tries to explain that he tried to rape her but her pleas fall on deaf ears. When her friends try to intervene they all end up with a rifle butt to their face, knocking them out cold. They awaken to find themselves tied up together with Derek promising to kill them for killing his friend. Alex tries to reason with him for a second but is easily swayed by Derek’s insistence that they girls must pay for their crime. Abby manages to trick Derek into untying them by questioning his bravery and once they all escape “BLACK ROCK” quickly degenerates into a by the numbers thriller with the women being hunted down by the men. Will they figure out a way to triumph over two army veterans armed with shotguns? Will all three of them manage to survive the night? How long is it before one (or more) of the women end up taking off their clothes and for what reason?
The biggest problem with “BLACK ROCK” is it’s stubborn insistence on believing that it has something important to say about the nature of sisterhood. Although there are a few short expository scenes in the beginning giving us an idea as to what makes the girls tick the film doesn’t try to expand on the characters back stories at all. Once Henry bites the big one it’s all about the girls vs. the boys and it does a piss poor job of presenting that in a believable manner as well.
First off, the script makes the men out to be total idiots who, despite the fact that they’re trained ex soldiers with weapons, cannot seem to just go and find this trio of civilians who have no weapons at all besides the aforementioned rock, some sharpened sticks and a pocket knife. But then again the script was written to make the men appear befuddled with no redeemable character traits. Abby did kill Henry in self defense but little is made of the fact that she was flirting with him throughout the entire evening, even covertly inviting him to join her when she excused herself from the campfire. Why is it that the film vilifies the men but not Abby for instigating the entire incident? Don’t get me wrong, Henry was wrong for his actions but he wouldn’t have been on top of Abby at all if she didn’t motion for him to join her. I just think it’s a cheap way to make the women out to be on a higher moral plane than the men are and it’s completely asinine.
Also amazing to me is the fact that the women end up becoming cold blooded killers while the men can’t seem to do anything right. The women end up fighting like they’re amazons and the men dodder about like Abbott and Costello, at one point even begging for mercy from the women. Remember, these are combat hardened veterans with weapons, not a pair of weekend warriors who feel superior because they just happen to be men with shotguns. If this were a real life scenario the women wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. I did some research after watching the film and discovered a quote in which director Aselton proclaimed that the script was written in 18 hours, which would explain the all around sloppiness of the entire venture. It’s not a slasher film she wanted to make here. She wanted to make a feminist fantasy in which unarmed & untrained women can best armed & trained men in battle using nothing but their wits (& those sticks I mentioned earlier).
“BLACK ROCK” features some good performances from the women but the men seemed to have been dialed up to “Psycho” almost as soon as they’re introduced. There’s no good reason given as to why they react so violently to what has happened. I can understand the reasons as to why their so dismayed at the sight of their dead colleague but they don’t even give Abby a chance to explain what happened, they just outright lose their minds. It’s lazily scripted nonsense designed to move the film along without having to explain why the men have reacted so violently. Maybe a connection was inferred when the men speak of their dishonorable discharge, maybe they were let go because they’re actually loony, but the script doesn’t bother to try and put any sensible reason to their mindsets. They’re written to be the bad guys and nothing more. “BLACK ROCK” looks good and Aselton takes advantage of some gorgeous Maine scenery in the opening scenes but since the main part of the film takes place at night the scenery doesn’t matter much. There isn’t a lot of blood to be seen but there is a ridiculously amateurish slit throat makeup effect near the end of the film that looks like it was bought from a retail costume store.
I think maybe Aselton might’ve thought she was crafting some sort of post feminist cinematic revolt against films in which women are always victimized and never fight back. Maybe they figured that the world needed a film in which the women not only fight back, but win! I guess they haven’t seen films like “I Spit On Your Grave“, “Mother’s Day“, “Ms. 45” or “Switchblade Sisters“. Hell, all they had to do is go back and look at some Pam Grier films of the seventies! Then they would’ve seen a strong, independent woman who kicked all kinds of ass (both men AND women).
“BLACK ROCK” wants to say something about the battle between the sexes but all it does is muddy the reputation of the people responsible for it. The only thing it does successfully is insult the intelligence of everyone who sees it, both man and woman. I hope everyone involved with it’s production is proud of themselves.
“BLACK ROCK” – 1 out of 5 shrouds.
Black Rock (2012)