On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at the sophomore outing of writer/director/actress Katie Aselton, Black Rock!
Black Rock, from actress, writer, and director Katie Aselton, follows three childhood friends who are now 30 and have splintered due to some personal conflicts that occurred several years earlier. They reunite for one more trip to an island, located just off the coast of their hometown, where they would often play as young girls.
But as they rekindle their friendship and mend their old wounds, the ladies meet a strange trio of ex-soldiers out on a hunting trip. And when things go quickly wrong, the three friends must fight to survive the night and escape the island before they’re all hunted down.
Frustration. If there’s one word that can possibly sum up Black Rock, it is “frustration”. Not because the movie is unwatchable–because it is. But it is frustrating in that, after having watched it all the way through to the end, you will be left with this sense that somebody left out half the damn movie.
That said, the best part of the film is easily the dynamic between its three female leads–Abby, Lou, and Sarah (played respectively by Aselton, Lake Bell, and Kate
The three are all sensitive, selfish, and absolutely unsure of themselves as they struggle to deal with personal issues before all hell breaks loose. The love between them is every bit as palpable as the tension, anger, and resentment lingering in the air.
If nothing else, it’s a testament to their acting abilities that these women feel as alive and fleshed-out as they are in spite of how weak the material they’re working from actually is.
Now, this isn’t to say there isn’t some quality to be found in the movie aside from it’s actresses. The story itself feels very Stephen King-ish in that these characters are all very much “people” being forced to deal not only with their own issues but also the horrifying event that organically comes about due to a fine mix of unfortunate circumstances and their failings as people.
This leads to a tense situation of life-and-death played out between two camps of people who’ve made a lot of mistakes and feel there is no other way out but to kill the others.
This isn’t a matter of young ladies being hunted down by some monster, or menacing lunatic with a grudge against pretty ladies. These are very much people fighting people.
Unfortunately, these loftier concepts aren’t fully realized. Yes, the three women all feel like real friends with real problems. Even the troubled trio of ex-soldiers that they meet on the island seem just as troubled and eager to escape the worries that plague them.
But unlike a story by King, where we get to dig in to these characters–and their back stories and relationships to the point where we feel every sting of pain and guilt and rage they do–we’re left with a lot of half-baked everything.
There’s a troubled history between the girls, but we’re left to fill in all the meatier details with help from the expository dialog that flows from their mouths whenever the plot slows
to a crawl, which is far too often.
When the leads aren’t exchanging some naturally wonderful banter and dialog, they are telling us that they’re childhood friends. They are telling us they have been to this island a
long, long time ago. They are telling us they have issues with each other. They are telling us they have even newer issues back at home.
But for all this telling, there’s almost zero showing of any of it.
This problem also applies to the trio of soldiers they meet on the island. We’re told that the girls are old friends with one man and his older brother. We’re told they’re ex-military. We’re even told that they’ve done some rather shady things to get kicked out of the military. We’re even told very clearly that two of these men owe their lives to the third. But, again,
we never see any of this.
A WRONG TURN
Most of the film’s all-too brief 80 minutes should have been dedicated to developing all six characters further, letting the audience see how troubled they really are in a slow burn before allowing the proverbial shit to hit the fan.
Instead, we’re left with a film that goes from an introspective story about a group of three sisters (and three brothers) with very real problems to an incredibly stretched-out chase
It’s this desire to rush to the “horror” stuff that not only hurts the emotional side of the story but also greatly harms the “horror stuff” by dragging out what should have been a short, tight, and incredibly tense third act.
There simply isn’t a lot to do on the movie’s incredibly small island. In fact, the setting is so small that at one point the women are shown running from one side of it to the other in
a matter of minutes. And because this part of the story, for some odd reason, takes place over several days, they do this a lot.
It’s not just boring to see the same scenes play out again and again, it also harms the credibility of their pursuers. When trained soldiers can’t find or flush-out three untrained women on a small island in a couple of days, the whole thing becomes a bad joke.
More so, Aselton’s weaknesses as a director are all too apparent once the chaos takes hold. Not only is there little tension and drama once bullets and blood start flying, it all looks terrible.
The obligatory final showdown at the end looks like an edited-for-TV movie, with cut-away after cut-away reducing what should be R-rated action to fairly dull PG-13 fair. In fact, if it weren’t for the occasional F-bomb and breast thrown around, the film’s actual R-rating would have proven totally unnecessary.
Now this may be due to budget concerns, as showing cuts and stabs can really up the need for stunt doubles or prosthetics or gimmicked props. However, there are smarter and more effective ways to get around this without making it so obvious.
All of this being said, Black Rock is a respectable-enough sophomore outing for Aselton. It shows she can handle strong characters and drama. It even affords her the chance to display her skillful range as an actress.
However, it also shows that while Aselton may have a strong mind for good stories and dialog, a fast-paced film is not her thing. Instead she excels at the slow, tense burn that is often missing in modern horror. And if Aselton can focus more on this, she may prove one of the next big things in a genre desperate for fresh blood and fresh styles.
In the end, Black Rock, while not well-realized, has the makings of something greater. And if you can appreciate the very hard work of everyone involved and the aspirations the film has, you might just be able to overlook its glaring shortcomings long enough to CHILL with Black Rock.