Monday, July 20, 2015

Black Rock

3/4

Starring: Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell, Katie Aselton, Jay Paulson, Will Bouvier, Anslem Richardson

Rated R for Some Strong Violence, Pervasive Language, Sexual References and Brief Graphic Nudity

"Black Rock" works because it knows exactly what it wants to be.  This is a visceral cat-and-mouse thriller on a deserted island.  There's no flashy camera tricks (although the cinematography by Hillary Spera is certainly evocative) and no needless philosophical musings.  It's a fight to the death, plain and simple.

Sarah (Bosworth) and Lou (Bell) are going camping on an island they used to go to when they were girls.  What Sarah doesn't tell her is that their old friend Abby (Aselton) is joining them.  That's because there's some bad blood between the two (Lou slept with Abby's boyfriend six years ago).  Nevertheless, they go to the island, where they run into the brother of an old school chum.  His name is Derek (Paulson), and he's out hunting with his war buddies Henry (Bouvier) and Alex (Richardson).  However, a night of drinking around the campfire ends up with Abby enticing Henry for some fun in the woods.  She changes her mind, however (she's married, albeit to another guy than Lou slept with), but Derek won't take no for an answer.  Soon, he's dead, and Henry and Alex intend on settling the score.

This isn't a very original idea for a movie.  In fact, it's been done numerous times in the past.  But there's enough good stuff here to make it worth seeing.  The performances by the three leads are uniformly strong, and they establish a good rapport with each other.  That allows the suspense to supersede some of the story's rather dumb moments.  And there are a few of those.

Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell and Katie Aselton are quite good here.  I bought their relationship and they breathe life into underwritten characters.  Their dialogue and interactions with each other have a ring of truth to them.  Since this is a story-oriented film, not much else matters other than getting us to sympathize with them, and they succeed.  The guys aren't as impressive.  Jay Paulson is good in a low-key sort of way, but he doesn't have a lot of screen time.  Will Bouvier and Anslem Richardson are too hammy to be truly threatening, but that's not much of a concern since the three girls are trying to avoid them rather than engaging in deep, emotionally-taxing conversations with them.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from some common maladies of the genre: characters do some amazingly stupid things and pay the price for them, and some scenes (such as the nude scene) are almost comical, albeit in an entirely unintentional way.  Aselton, who co-wrote the script with her husband, mumblecore king Mark Duplass, might have been trying to convey that these women are normal people in an extreme situation, but it doesn't come across.  It feels like sloppy storytelling.  On the plus side, I did like the fact that the fight scenes are realistic and brutal.  They're not stylized at all (it at times looks unrehearsed, but overall I think it works).  I also appreciated how it took the act of killing someone seriously, even if that person is trying to kill you.

The story brings to mind "The Descent," but it's really closer in spirit to "A Lonely Way to Die."  It's the weakest of the three, but it's still a good white-knuckler.  Not bad for a crowdfunded movie.

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