Black Rock is simple, like a poke in the eye from someone you like. Your reaction to the provocation might be instantaneous anger and harsh disappointment, but mostly likely you’ll just look around in confusion and go “Whatt’d’ye do that for?”
Three women embark on a camping trip to a tiny island off the coast of their small home town. Kate Bosworth has lured them all there for a weekend of fun, even though Katie Aselton is enraged at Lake Bell over a previous indiscretion. Bosworth spends much of her time mediating, albeit very awkwardly, and the other two attempt to patch things up.There’s plenty of trouble brewing between the three, but when three men enter the picture, the dynamics begin to shift. After a horrible accident, the girls find themselves struggling to survive and outwit their unexpected predators.
Katie Aselton stars as well as directs from a script by her husband, Mark Duplass. I once sat in an interview with Duplass where he basically said that he tries to make as much media as possible and hopes that maybe even a fraction of it is good, but that not all of it can be good. Why you would announce this to a room full of journalists while attempting to promote one of these many movies you make, well, I don’t know. Duplass’ script ends up feeling hollow, a bit shallow and vaguely unfinished, almost as if it were rushed into production with no clear picture of what it wanted to say about life.
Black Rock wants to say something, but there’s simply nothing for it to relate. Like waking up from a nightmare with a fantastical story to tell, only to find yourself stumbling and reaching for words that don’t explain what happened, at all. The film wants to Say Something About Rape, which, hurray for you, movie, saying something is a good thing to do! It wants to say that no means no, and that there’s no excuse for it, even if you are a recently-home-from-the-war veteran. Still gotta get the go-ahead to get down with America’s finest. The movie seems to want to Say Something About The War, but that gets muddled and lost in translation but sounds something like: war is bad, it makes us all less human. A good opinion to have, movie!
But the movie also wants to say some kind of weird stuff about How Women Are, and the way in which women interact with one another. The women are all there together to reconnect, they used to be close but circumstances drove them apart and they sullenly begin to work through their problems with one another. There’s a kind of longing for the past, a wish to turn back the clock at almost every turn, but these women remain so stilted and mediocre, it’s hard to invest. These women are fairly helpless, not too bright, driven by fear, confused easily, bicker quite a bit and there’s no excuse for it. And while there’s nothing like fighting for your life to bring people together, what could have been some remarkably fleshed out female heroines instead become throwaways, forgettable flotsam, beaten to within an inch of their lives.
The movie also doesn’t believe in itself enough to respect its characters. There’s a few scenes halfway through the film where Aselton and Bell strip off their clothes and hold each other for warmth. It’s not exactly played for naughtiness, but still feels puerile and unnecessary. The one good moment that transpires from this is a scene of the girls gathering up their spears and heading out into the forest, naked, Amazon warriors unafraid and stark. There is plenty of violence throughout, aggression and bloodshed, and a tone of casual male dominance that is eventually disrupted, but the entire transition from pleasant camping weekend to out and out fright fest is vaguely unbelievable and even worse — uninteresting. It’s as if you keep waiting for something to happen beyond what you expected, but nothing ever really does.
Aselton’s instincts as a director, and her skill at evoking a sinister mood tinged with magical, dreary possibility, far outstrip her abilities as an actress. The film is powerfully moody, the perfect score settling in and around the island, whistling through the trees, bringing up memories of Twin Peaks and half-remembered dreams. And yes, Black Rock wants to be more than just a horror film. It wants to be a relationship drama drenched in horror, but wastes an excellent cast on a less than perfect script, a weak-willed, abrupt ending and too little to go on.