Sundance Review: 'Black Rock', starring Kate Bosworth and Katie Aselton

Since no successful female genre film can be allowed to flourish without comparison to one of it's male counterparts(Bridesmaids is the female Hangover!), Black Rock will unfortunately be tagged something like the all-girl version of Deliverance. It should be an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with a film of that caliber, but it and Black Rock only share surface similarities. Based on a story by star Katie Aselton and written by her husband Mark Duplass, two indie stalwarts who helped revolutionize the "mumblecore" movement, the note perfect dialogue and commitment to character is what helps separate Black Rock from the pack, even as some of it's more cliche elements drag it back down.

Lou(Lake Bell) and Sarah(Kate Bosworth) are two old friends headed for a camping getaway in one of their favorite childhood spots, an isolated island off the coast of Maine known as Black Rock. When they arrive at the docks, they are met by Abby(Aselton), and it's clear from the start there's some old anger between her and Lou. Sarah lied to them both in order to get them together, and patch up the feud that's been boiling for six years. Using a combination of guilt and deception, Sarah convinces both to stay.

On the island, old emotions quickly bubble to the surface. Lou and Abby nearly come to blows, while Sarah struggles to play peace maker. Thinking they have the place all to themselves, the women relax and try to fix old wounds, but it's not long before they're shocked by the arrival of three hunters. Before you think this will devolve into a bunch of drunken rednecks groping at the hot city chicks, it's played in a totally different way. All three men are soldiers fresh from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there's something just not quite right. Like they need to be mixed into society a bit more slowly. Recognizing that one of the men is the younger brother of a high school friend, Abby makes the fateful decision to invite them to dinner by campfire.

Awkward conversation full of empty pauses are only interrupted by Abby's drunken flirting. Inviting one of the men into the woods for a little action, he gets too aggressive and tries to rape her, but in defending herself Abby accidentally kills him. In response, his friends tie the women up and beat them to a bloody pulp. Hell bent on getting revenge by killing the women in brutal fashion, with one wanting to 'go all Hadji on them', they instead set the women free in order to hunt them down like animals.

While the world "mumblecore" is hated by those associated with it, what the small budget, indie movement specializes in is naturalistic dialogue and forging believable human interactions. Duplass, who wrote the brilliant scripts for movies like Cyrus and The Puffy Chair, puts that skill to perfect use here with the three women. They talk and rib each other in the way only people who know each other's most intimate secrets can. They fight like sisters, and that more often than not means getting a little dirty in the most hurtful ways. Bell, Bosworth, and Aiselton in a surprising dramatic turn(if you've seen her in The League it's an eye opener) are all excellent at capturing how these women evolve under such severe adversity.

Ironically, it's Duplass' characterization of the men that falls short. By making them soldiers, often referred to as heroes in the film, the impression is that they won't be just another silly, over-the-top, screeching bad guy like we always see in these movies. Unfortunately that's exactly what we get, and it blunts some of the film's well earned realism. As the hunters get louder and more clownish, the film soon starts to feel very familiar, and there aren't enough twists to sustain the momentum. Clocking in at roughly 80 minutes, it could have used a bit more to further flesh out the women's fight for survival.

Having never seen Aselton's previous directorial efforts, her unflinching, in your face style was a welcome surprise. In particular she never backs down on the level of violence perpetrated, and a lot of the film's power comes from not knowing just how far things are going to go.

Black Rock is a very good survival thriller, but it could have been great if the secondary characters were treated with the same respect as the central ones.

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