Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Blu Ray Review: BLACK ROCK

Now out on Blu ray and DVD:

(Dir. Katie Aselton, 2012)

At the beginning of a thriller, especially one with such an ominous title as BLACK ROCK, when a few friends get together to go camping saying over and over how much fun they are going to have, movie-goers obviously know that their experience is going to be anything but.

We, the audience, are the ones who supposedly are going to be having fun, watching them get into dangerous predicaments, all the while wondering which of them is going to get out of there alive.

But in Katie Aselton’s follow-up to her directorial debut, the anti-rom com THE FREEBIE (2010) what starts off promising due to dialogue scripted by her husband actor/writer/director Mark Duplass (SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED, The Mindy Project), who also co-executive produced with his brother/co-collaborator Jay Duplass, becomes a grueling and all too familiar struggle for survival.

Aselton herself stars with Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell as a trio of friends who take a boat out to a small island off the coast of Maine, mainly because Bosworth wants Aselton and Bell to reconnect after years of estrangement. Bell had slept with Aselton’s boyfriend back in the day, and despite agreeing to go along on the camping trip, Aselton is still not over it.

While drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniels, and eating from cans of SpaghettiOs on the beach, the women are startled by three young men (Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson, and Anslem Richardson) carrying rifles, who happen to be hunting on the island.

Bell recognizes Bouvier from their childhood, and before you know it the two groups are partying together around a campfire as night falls. It’s revealed that the three men served together in the military in the Middle East where something f’ed up went down that led to their dishonorable discharge.

A drunk Aselton comes on to Bouvier and lures him into the woods, but it gets out of hand when he violently forces himself on her. Screaming and unable to break free, she bashes Bouvier in the head to death with a rock. Crazed by this, Paulson and Richardson capture the women, with the intent to kill them. The women are able to escape from their angry unhinged tormentors and the hunt is on.

Paulson, who folks may remember as Don Draper’s younger brother on Mad Men, makes a convincingly evil presence that can’t be talked down, but Richardson is so transparently this horror film’s token black character, and we all know what happens to them.

That’s only part of the predictability, as is when Bosworth declares that “it’s time to stop being stalked, and start stalking.” A sequence with the women trying to get to their boat in the dark of night is marred by tons of unnatural lighting - surely the moon and the fellow’s flashlights wouldn’t provide that much lighting in that environment. I know many movies have night scenes that are unrealistically lit, but here it’s really distracting.

Aselton’s direction and acting is assured, but there’s no interesting angle on this material. Its short running time (83 min.) attests to its lack of ideas. It’s dead in the water, when it so could’ve been DELIVERENCE with a difference.

The themes of women finding their strength while bonding are buried under a less than riveting hide and seek scenario, with an ending that doesn’t have the impact it’s desperately trying for.

Aselton and Duplass, who made their acting debuts together in Duplass’s and his brother’s THE PUFFY CHAIR (2005) and appear together on the FX sitcom The League, have talent to burn, but BLACK ROCK is a far from fleshed out thriller that ends up in a routine rut.

* This review originally appeared in the May 16th, 2013 edition of the Raleigh News & Observer.

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