You wouldn’t have to hit many film festivals to become a fan of the filmmaking couple known as Katie Aselton and Mark Duplass. He, along with his brother Jay, brought us low-budget winners like The Puffy Chair, Baghead, and Cyrus, while she directed The Freebie not long ago and has graced many an indie project with her own lovely style of matter-of-fact femininity. (Plus she’s freaking hilarious on The League.)
So now, after working mostly in the department of dry comedy, Ms. Aselton and her husband have taken a leap into stark thriller territory, and the result is a slightly familiar but otherwise relatively bad-ass tale of accidental murder, unhinged antagonists, and suspenseful struggles for survival. Black Rock is about three women (Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth, and the director herself) who revisit an old island they loved as children -- only to stumble across three hunters who really shouldn’t be there. Truth be told, nobody should be spending time on the sparse and unpleasant Black Rock Island; that these unwelcome men are all toting guns just adds some tension, of course.
Despite their better judgment, the ladies invite the guys to join their campfire, which leads to an occurrence both tragic and unexpected... which leads to even more violence, and that's when Black Rock becomes a tight-fisted little piece of survival horror. Some Deliverance here, a bit of The Most Dangerous Game there, etc.
As mentioned earlier, it’s not the most unique of all thriller concepts, but that’s not a problem here because the six-person ensemble is aces across the board (the men are suitably creepy but still humans; the women are scared and vulnerable but still smart and resourceful), the 83-minute flick never gives you a moment to check your watch out of boredom, and the tone is refreshingly bereft of the unrealistic kind of “girl power” that plagues many a female-centric genre movie.
Tonally reminiscent of Neil Marshall’s The Descent in some ways, bolstered by three very cool women and a narrative flow that knows when to slow down and when to kick it into high gear, Black Rock is clear evidence that Ms. Aselton and Mr. Duplass might be really proficient at improv-heavy, indie-style comedy material, but (as fans of Baghead may already realize) they also have a talent for the darker fare as well. As a horror fan, this realization pleases me to no end.