Black Rock Review [2013 MSPIFF]


Director Katie Aselton attempts to shock and disturb by way of seclusion and suspense in her latest thriller Black Rock, which she stars in alongside Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth. Black Rock works best when attempting to piece together the broken fragments of an old friendship, but when the film takes a turn for the horror it quickly becomes a poor man’s I Spit on Your Grave or even Straw Dogs. The terror is suppressed by a small budget and lack of experience from the film’s psychotic killers. Black Rock is one weekend getaway that you’ll want to pass on.

Sarah (Kate Bosworth) attempts to mend a broken relationship between her two friends Lou (Lake Bell) and Abby (Katie Aselton) by inviting them both out to an old island retreat for a peaceful camping getaway. She invites them separately and then when they both show up she desperately begs them to put their past differences behind for a weekend of relaxation with some old friends.

The two agree and as a trio they boat on over to a secluded island from their childhood. The plan was simply to drink, talk and kick back, but it’s not long before they run into three men that are having their own little hunting trip getaway. They recognize one of the men as a younger brother of one of their classmates from school, so they invite the three to join them by the fire.

Drinks get passed around quickly and suddenly one of the girls is flirting pretty heavily with one of the men, leading to a misreading of signals and a horrible accident that changes the course of the entire weekend for everyone involved.

Now the girls must fight for their lives as they attempt to survive a manhunt led by men that they’ve recently discovered are soldiers back home from a dishonorable leave from their post. Do the girls have it in them to fight back and remain strong or will they fall apart, much like their friendship has over the years?

Black Rock is director/star Katie Aselton‘s latest thriller, written by Mark Duplass and starring Aselton, Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth. The concept is pretty simple, pitting three innocent girls up against trained soldiers on a remote island. The film uses this simple approach to its advantage, not wasting too much time on any outside characters, while also keeping most of the scenes within a limited amount of space.


Everything is very compact and personal, despite the large and empty island providing a big sandbox for the characters to hunt and hide in. Aselton directs the first part of the film with attention to character detail, building on the core friendship between the three girls, while also revealing individual traits and flaws as the film progresses.

The film’s strongest points are at the beginning, because Aselton, Bell and Bosworth have strong chemistry and likability. Their friendship feels sincere and despite their short-comings with each other over the years you’re naturally interested as an audience member to see if they have what it takes to build their friendship back to where it was, while also surviving the hellish night that’s ahead of them.

Things start to fall apart as soon as the main conflict is introduced to the film. This is mostly due to the three men playing the crazed soldiers, but also due to Aselton’s decisions as a filmmaker when it comes to unfolding this otherwise tight little thriller. Scenes go from being brisk and direct to drawn-out and flimsy as the girls try on more than one occasion to escape the island in an idiotic fashion.

Seriously, everything you learn about the women being smart and strong individuals is swapped out for a trio of characters that make some of the dumbest and irrational decisions that I’ve ever seen on film. It almost gets to the point where you don’t want them to survive, because general logic and common sense would then be defeated.

This also reflects the military poorly, because the men make some questionable calls that make you wonder how they ever passed basic training.

These minor inconsistencies blow up big time and almost cause Black Rock to spiral out of control, but luckily for us Aselton, Bell and Bosworth have the acting chops to make the film work on an acting level. Their performances really do save this film from train-wrecking into chaos, even if Aselton loses control over the film from a directing standpoint.

Black Rock has a few surprises up its sleeve, but most of them have absolutely no weight by the time they land, because of the film’s rocky movement. The film starts out as an interesting character study with a promising turn of events, but once shit hits the fan for the characters the film quickly loses its footing and falls flat on its face.

I’m not sure how much of this can be blamed on the budget, the writing or the directing, because there isn’t one specific bad spot, but a compilation of several.

Black Rock is a bumpy weekend getaway that you’ll be better off skipping.

Black Rock – 6/10

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