Black Rock Review

Black Rock

In the film world, any attempt by urbanites to embrace nature generally turns out to be a bad idea.

Unless you’re Billy Crystal, in which case the only danger you face consists of some slapstick cowboy gags.

For proof, we need only look at the likes of Wolf Creek, The River Wild and Eden Lake amongst many others.

And the moment that someone blithely announces they cannot get a signal on their mobile phone, you know you’re only a few reels away from the blessed union of fan and brown stuff.

Black Rock, the new film from Katie Aselton, does little to buck this trend.

I would say it’s Sex and the City meets Deliverance, but these thirty-something women are arguably more outdoors-savvy than Carrie and Co, and the antagonists are more identifiably human than a mutant clan of banjo-playing hillbillies.

The story opens with the aforementioned women, a trio of childhood friends, re-connecting (their word, not mine) via a good ol’ fashioned camping trip at one of the landmarks of the childhood, an island off the coast of Maine called Black Rock.

Of the trio, Abby (played by director Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell) clearly have some unspoken conflict lingering between them, which Sarah (Kate Bosworth) is hoping to resolve over the course of the trip.

Soon enough, they encounter some company on the hitherto presumed-empty island: three soldiers who have recently returned from a tour of duty and, suffice to say, are struggling to acclimatise back to daily life.

But one of the guys is already known to Lou since childhood and before long the six are merrily sitting around a campfire, exchanging kiss-and-tell stories from their school days.

And then things take a turn for the worst. That’s all I’ll say.

Black Rock

It’s at this point that the camping trip, and the film for that matter, goes wildly off track. Which is a shame, given the female empowerment slash war trauma themes that could have been explored.

Up to this point, Aselton handles the build-up scenes with aplomb, painting a thick layer of tension over proceedings and nicely foreshadowing the dark events to come.

But the subsequent scenes, where the women find themselves in peril, feel strained, and performances from all cast members falter at this point.

Bosworth is chipper to the point of annoying, and Lou and Abby’s earlier verbal sparring endears neither character to the audience. This leaves no one to really root for.

As the primary antagonist, Jay Paulson goes from quietly creepy to cartoonishly manic as the film progresses, descending into some psycho version of Elmer Fudd.

Several plot points, such as Sarah’s childhood aptitude for cartography, bear little scrutiny.

And the climactic fight scene is a little too scrappy to be anything but, well, scrappy. Realism may have been the goal here, but the result is tantamount to capturing a play-fight on home video.

All this descends into a damp squib of an ending that leaves you scratching your head at what a fine film it could have been.

Conor Brennan

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June 2013
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