Black Rock is not what the posters and trailer would have you believe. It’s billed as a survival horror a; Deliverance with girls. But while the ad-men want to attract the gore-hounds, Black Rock is aimed at a more discerning audience, the kind of audience who like to turn to their neighbour and ask; “what would you have done?”.
Former buddies Lou (Lake Bell) and Abby (Katie Aselton) are not ready to let go of the indiscretion that sullied their friendship, so Sarah (Kate Bosworth) takes it upon herself to get them together and return to the titular island where they spent much of their childhood. After a failed treasure hunt, a lot of arguing and a few drinks the girls meet three recently discharged soldiers on the island hunting. But when Abby bites off more than she can chew with one of them, the girls find themselves being hunted by the men and must band together in order to survive.
Given director Aselton and her husband writer Mark Duplass have made names for themselves in the indie sub-genre that is Mumblecore – in which dialogue and character become the key focus over story – Black Rock is a horror thriller with a difference. It’s a slow-burn exercise which starts with three chipper girls, gradually builds their characters before stripping them down to the bare bones and seeing how they react in a heightened sense of danger.
The first act is glowing with sun and sandy beaches before a particular moment of violence shifts the tone to something altogether more harrowing and tension injected. And then Black Rock goes dark, truly and compellingly so. Where once these girls smiled and joked they’re now hunted but soon decide the only way to live is to take the fight to them. The results are primeval, instinctive and often fascinating to watch. At one point the girls go full on tribal as they strip down, their faces caked in dark bruises and blood looking distinctly like war paint, and sharpen hand made tools under the glow of the moon.
Black Rock achieves exactly what it sets out to do; tells an interesting character drama in the realm of a horror thriller. The problem is that while it’s always engaging it leaves a little to be desired. The drama fans will feel there isn’t quite enough resolution with the short running time, the horror fans will feel cheated of any full on gore or genuine scares. Either way it’s to be commended for striving to do something different in both genres and coming so close to achieving it.
The performances are all solid with Bosworth’s happy-go-lucky Sarah a standout in the first act. In the second it is Lake Bell who rises to the challenge. The moment those dark eyes find focus you don’t doubt she’s capable of almost anything as Lou goes well and truly off the edge.
Interesting character dynamics allow Black Rock to rise above most horrors on an emotional level but overall you feel it’s a more indie incarnation of the similar girls-against-the-odds routine of The Descent.