Director: Katie Aselton
Writer: Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton
Producer: Adele Romanski
Stars: Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth, Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson, Anslem Richardson
An island getaway turns deadly for three longtime girlfriends when they find themselves in a fight for their own survival.
Sarah, Abby, and Lou, short for Louise, were inseparable friends since childhood. Until a drunken sexual indiscretion with Abby’s boyfriend left Lou on the outs with Abby. Years have gone by and Abby has since moved on with a new man, but the animosity towards her former friend still burns hot. Sarah takes it upon herself to reform their trinity by planning a weekend girls’ getaway on a remote island that they used to explore as kids. Abby and Lou are each in the dark that the other has an invitation. What none of them know, however, is that a far more horrific situation waits for them on Black Rock. The three women must rely on each other for survival if they are to have any hope of leaving the island alive.
The story in “Black Rock” is not unique. Among the less inspired elements necessary for plot advancement is the old-fashioned jealousy and infidelity wedge that crushed a longtime friendship. And of course, anyone ever caught in a horror movie knows that the woods are a terrible place for three vulnerable women to be left isolated and unprepared. Put those woods on a remote island and one may as well pack a body bag in lieu of a camping tent. Nothing good ever happens in the woods or on remote islands. Nevertheless, without these contrivances, there would not be a story. And although the story in “Black Rock” is not particularly original, it is told well.
The driving force behind “Black Rock” is its slate of strong performances from a well cast roster of actors and actresses. Director Katie Aselton wears a second hat by casting herself as one of the three friends. In so doing, she sets herself up as the weakest link in the female trio, but Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth pick up the slack. In fairness to Aselton, she plays the uptight and scorned member of the bunch while Bell’s Lou is the fun girl with a wild streak and Bosworth’s Sarah acts as the glue binding their group together. Aselton does not underperform so much as Bell and Bosworth embody more endearing personas. And Kate Bosworth simply has an unequalled ability to sell subtleties with her smile that few other actresses can manage.
From the initial car ride to the boat launch before the opening credits have even finished rolling, “Black Rock” encapsulates a very believable longstanding friendship triangle in a remarkably short period of time. Abby, Sarah, and Lou are among the most well defined characters to be found in a survival thriller. Even with Abby huffing, puffing, and clenching her cheeks as she hikes through the woods, there is a sense of attachment to her and the other two ladies that is as genuine as the dialogue exchanges that establish their character histories.
By the time they make camp, there is a wish for all three of them to survive, even if that is an impossible dream for this category of suspense. “Black Rock” knows that tension is inherent from the audience having that desire. It is this authentic characterization that keeps the film on track even when the script starts teetering from one side to the other.
On the other side of the gender aisle, Jay Paulson takes the antagonist lead with an on pitch performance as an Army veteran slightly unhinged and shellshocked. His physical demeanor has a tonal mix of gangly nerdiness and sociopathic mania. His villain is the type of personality where you know something is off just from his presence, yet you are never really certain of how to put a finger on it. It works as a performance and that establishes both a Jekyll side and a Hyde to his character.
Clocking in at just 75 minutes without credits, “Black Rock” is a tight thriller focused on just six characters. It is a quick, straight, and to-the-point adventure intended to entertain as opposed to truly wanting to say anything original about female empowerment. The setup is familiar, and wearied fans that have tired of the tropes in the sub-genre will have plenty to yawn about. Still, the performances are very good and even predictable moments have the ability to pull the audience forward by leaning in anticipation over how events will play out. “Black Rock” is not entirely fresh, but it knows how to draw out empathy for its characters. And with that comes the tension and the chills.
Review Score: 75