Rock Solid Horror

Editor’s Note: We love a bit of controversy. Read the Pulaski review here and follow it up it up with Nav’s counter viewpoint here!

Kate Aselton’s Black Rock concerns three girls who venture out into what they believe is a deserted, peaceful island encompassed by woods and unrefined nature until they run into three war veterans who are spending their time out in the countryside hunting and living off the land. The girls invite them to their camp for longnecks and food, when one tries to rape and attack one of the girls. This leads to turmoil and tension between the three girls and vets, who are now playing a cat and mouse game with each other in an unfamiliar turf.

The girls are Abby (played by director Kate Aselton), Lou (Lake Bell), and Sarah (Kate Bosworth). Lou and Abby haven’t spoken in months after a cheating incident left them what appeared to be irreparably broken and hurt. Sarah tries to be the glue that holds the three girls closer, claiming that they could die from unexpected circumstances tomorrow and they wouldn’t have the luxury of “living,” if that makes sense. As always, the planned outing turns deadly in a series of unforeseen events that will scar each of them for life.

If you go by the premise itself, it’s undoubtedly so that Black Rock seems to accentuate and thrive off of every viable cliche in the suspense/thriller booklet. However, the film maintains careful plotting and a focused mindset, making its female characters more than the kind to cry and scream. One of the smartest things it does is avoid misogyny and dreary cynicism. It doesn’t capitalize off of the known-effect its scene of brutality and assault will inevitably have on a viewer. It doesn’t bask in the nihilistic light that films like I Spit on Your Grave have. It seems to function with the style and format that Wes Craven’s classic Last House on the Left had. There was a film that took the most mean-spirited, vile plot and turned it into something of a subversive art, if you will, leaving misogyny at the door, while still amplifying the sickness of the situation.

Black Rock, though, is even more careful than that film. It doesn’t conduct itself as a parable on revenge and brutality, or make an attempt to soften the violence that is featured in the film. Aselton is smart about what she shows and what she makes the film touch on more. The on-location shooting in Maine, showing the untouched wilderness and woodsy environment is terrific, the crackling of twigs and leaves brilliantly makes use of the naturalism this story begs for, and the wide-variety of camera angles and shot-setups make this as interesting as can possibly be aesthetically. The film surprisingly doesn’t even feel like a film that tries to push the idea that women can be as tough as men or possess the unsung ability to fight back. This is a tale of survival and gender roles and commonalities seem to have no business being talked about here.

The film was written (or perhaps outlined) by Mark Duplass (Aselton’s husband), who I’ve stated several times is one of my favorite men in the business. Duplass, usually working alongside his brother Jay, has created some of the strongest independent films of recent years and written some of the most unique and intimate films I’ve ever seen. Many of these films go under the name of a cinematic movement called “mumblecore,” which is predicated off of amateurish performances, low-quality cameras, home-movie-esque aesthetics, and improvised scripts. Duplass’s minimalist writing and story put with Aselton’s reserved but competent direction makes the film that much more grand in terms of content.

Black Rock will be slammed by those who deem its survivalist story and “less-is-more” filmmaking as an amateur setback and a noneventful occurrence. It will be praised by those who adore small-scale storytelling and extremely independent filmmaking. You may think it’s stupid and boring. I think it’s one of the best films of the year.

Grade: A-

Reviewed by Steve Pulaski

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