Black Rock
If it was scripted, then it’s poor writing and if it was ad-libbed, then it’s bad casting.


18 June 2013

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Plot summary

Three young women – Sarah, Abby and Lou – get together for a private campout at one of the iconic settings of their childhood, an empty island off the coast of Maine, to renew their bond of sisterhood. They quickly learn, though, that the island is anything but empty, when they encounter three recently-returned servicemen, who have come to the island to hunt.

“What do you do when things go wrong?,” asks the promotional material for Black Rock. “Scream or fight?” Surely those aren’t the only two options available. What about “try to resolve the problem in a calm and reasonable manner”? Or “look to attribute blame to somebody else”? Or “call the police”? Or, to quote the late Aaliyah, “dust yourself off and try again”? There’s loads actually, so why limit the possibilities? They end up doing both by the way; screaming and fighting. Sometimes both at the same time. So there was no real need to present the question in the first place.

Abby (Kate Asleton), Lou (Lake Bell) and Sarah (Kate Bosworth) head to an island to recapture old times and rekindle a fractured friendship. Here they encounter three ex-military men who are struggling to hunt deer. It’s unclear whether  deer – or any other animal for that matter – even inhabit the island given its relatively small size. A drunken tragedy then results in the girls becoming the target of the hunt.

Black Rock follows the likes of The Wickerman, Shutter Island and the entire six seasons of Lost in using the tried-and-tested horror location of  an enclosed, dark and nowhere-to-run island. But the film begins away from that genre entirely. The mumblecore style that Jay and Mark Duplass (Dupli?) love so much has found its way into the script which results in irritating and tedious dialogue on utterly banal subjects. It’s like an episode of The Hills but without the apparent structure. If it was scripted, then it’s poor writing and if it was ad-libbed, then it’s bad casting.

One crucial part of a good horror film is that the audience should be rooting for the potential victims, wanting them to survive. But, in this, they are so hard to like.  In one scene, when it becomes apparent that Sarah has tricked Lou and Abby (who have history) into coming with her to the island, she persuades them by joking she has cancer. And, hey, if cancer jokes can’t fix a broken relationship, then maybe being hunted by murderous soldiers will do the trick! Spoiler: it does the trick.

With Aselton also at the directorial helm, though, I still had hope. Hope that this was more than your generic, clichéd lost-on-the-island horror. Hope that women won’t be portrayed so clearly as helpless victims. Hope that we’re about to see a refreshing step-change in horror movie feminist film theory. But my hope faded long before the gratuitous nude scene halfway through where two women stripped and cuddled for ten minutes to avoid wet-clothes induced hypothermia.

There was just so much wrong with this film. The transitions reminded me of a hastily put-together A-level film I made about leaves, but I had far fewer resources and even less ability. In a horror film, the only thing that made me even slightly jump was a change in pace about half-an-hour in. The film was only 82 minutes long and it dragged and dragged until a mediocre conclusion. In short, things went very wrong. So what to do?  Erm…scream or fight?