Black Rock

Black RockSynopsis: Not every island is a paradise.

Three young women – Sarah (Kate Bosworth), Abby (Katie Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell) – get together for a private campout at one of the iconic settings of their childhood, an empty island off the coast of Maine, to renew their bond of sisterhood. They quickly learn, though, that the island is anything but empty, when they encounter three men, who have come to the island to hunt. A misunderstanding quickly turns to tragedy, and the three women soon find themselves the targets of the hunt. What started as a simple playdate to recall old times is now a race for survival.

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Black Rock 8.0

eyelights: its cast. its character dynamics. its basic premise. its unpredictability.
eyesores: its mildly sloppy finale.

“This ends with you two dead.”

After watching ‘The Freebie‘, I was curious to find out what else Katie Asselton had done; I figured that if she could multitask (i.e. direct/write/star) her way to a pretty good motion picture, she had enough talent to warrant exploring further. The only other film she’d done was ‘Black Rock’, and it so happened that my local library had a copy.

So I requested it.

I went in knowing very little about it. I saw the pictures on the back of the DVD, which suggested that there may be some wrenching moments in it. But that’s all I knew other than the fact that Asselton once again directed and starred in it (she came up with the story, but her spouse wrote the screenplay) and that Kate Bosworth also had a lead role.

Right from the start, we get the impression that something bad’s going to happen: Sarah (Bosworth) is on the road with her friend Lou (Lake Bell), returning to their old childhood haunt for a weekend of camping. However, when they arrive at the dock, which will take them to the small island, an old friend, Abby (Asselton), is waiting for them.

Except that she wasn’t supposed to be there.

Or was she?

There is an immediate reaction from both Lou and Abby, who were each invited to spend the weekend alone with Sarah. Apparently, the two had a falling out and there is much lingering anger and hatred between them. They decide to scrap the weekend. But Sarah announces that she has cancer, with 4-6 months to live and asks them to bury the hatchet for her.

Naturally, they give in.

But it was all a lie: Not only did Sarah lie to both of them about the weekend, she also does not have cancer. She claims that she did all of this to try to reunite their little group, in the hope to repair the rifts between them. But can she be trusted? What about Abby, who is deeply wounded? What about Lou, who seems to be emotionally-disconnected?

Something’s not quite right.

And that’s the least of it: Soon after making their way to the island, not only do their old wounds tear them apart, but they discover that they aren’t alone – a trio of local men are there hunting. Or so they claim: they too have their secrets, secrets that will have the most devastating repercussions on the little group. Things go bad.

Real bad.

Not everyone will get out of this alive.

It may not seem like much, but I really liked ‘Black Rock’. I liked that the main characters were all morally ambiguous, which made them feel untrustworthy, if not subtly threatening. Since I didn’t know anything about the plot, it put me on edge. I also found the performances solid, if not riveting, in some instances; they really pulled me in.

The character dynamics were the most interesting, because, combined with their moral ambiguity, you didn’t know just how bonded they actually were, or what was simmering beneath the surface. I mean, Sarah was a proven liar, Lou had knowingly shattered Abby’s trust, and Abby was (as per Sarah’s observations) a little bit off, not herself.

Any of them seemed capable of lashing out or being duplicitous.

So there was tension building very early on. Throw our trio into a cold, unfriendly environment (the local weather was grim to say the least) and the tension mounts. By the time the men arrived, which elicited such a startling scream from Abby that I dropped some of my dinner on myself, you could sense the danger lurking in the island’s many shadows.

I also felt that the turns of events were largely plausible, if not realistic, startling and shocking though they may be; to me, it seemed that these individuals under these circumstances would indeed act and react the way that they did. It did require a little suspension of disbelief towards the end, however, when the action sequences fell apart slightly.

What I liked most, though, is that the women became rather primal when their survival was at stake. Even though they’re hardly of the same physical caliber as the ones in ‘The Descent‘, they didn’t buckle under the pressure (in fact, they took some pretty serious beatings along the way and kept going) and overcame many obstacles – some very lethal.

Where I became skeptical is when they didn’t suffer from their injuries, which at the very least should have produced consistent wincing, if not interfered with their abilities. There were also a few moments where they made far too much noise while creeping about (either they talked too loudly or the foley work was incompetent) or made far too little.

All told, though, I was quite satisfied with ‘Black Rock’. I vacillated between giving it a 7.75 and an 8.0. But, given that it was made on such a low budget and that it’s Asselton’s second film and that she’s worn many hats fairly skillfully, I have to bump it up. That she could make a female-centric nailbiter of this caliber without Hollywood’s help is remarkable.

So far, it’s two for two. I look forward to seeing more of Asselton’s work in the future.

Date of viewing: April 13, 2016

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