News Column

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., John Beifuss column

May 16, 2013

YellowBrix

May 16--Dishonorably discharged male War on Terror vets menace attractive female campers in "Black Rock," a photogenic Maine-set shocker that seems to have been motivated by a desire to craft a commercial thriller with an indie aesthetic -- and budget.

Combining the backwoods paranoia of "Deliverance," the hunting-humans suspense of "The Most Dangerous Game," the women-avenger catharsis of "I Spit on Your Grave" and the ironic reversion-to-savagery female empowerment of "The Descent," "Black Rock" brings nothing new to its sources, although it's possible debuting director and star Katie Aselton is unfamiliar enough with genre history to think she was blazing a new trail through the picturesque forest of her island location and the gruesome thickets of her violent narrative.

Working from her original story and a script by her husband, Mark Duplass, one of the innovators of the mumblecore/microcinema movement, Aselton casts herself, Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell as three longtime if somewhat estranged friends who reunite for what is supposed to be a refreshing weekend in the woods -- an uplifting today-is-the-first-day-of-the-rest-of-your-life experience. "We are all dying and that's the truth," opines Sarah (Bosworth) at the start of the vacation, trying to encourage her two pals to bury the hatchet (not literally, although impalement does come later). "We have no idea what's going to happen," she adds. A more conventional horror movie might have added a rumble of thunder to the soundtrack to punctuate the foreshadowing.

Last week, reviewing the gory "Aftershock," I noted that Malco Theatres Inc. lately has found room on random screens for such low-return, one-week-only neo-grindhouse offerings as "Holla II" and Rob Zombie's "Lords of Salem." The trend continues this week, as "Black Rock" replaces "Aftershock" at the Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8.

"Black Rock" is less nasty and less effective than its predecessor. It is well-made and well-acted, despite much busy "behavior" of the type that passes for realism in independent films. Many women were involved in the production, including cinematographer Hillary Spera and co-producer Adele Romanski (writer-director of a similarly tense if less dramatic forest indie, "Leave Me Like You Found Me," which played at the 2012 Indie Memphis Film Festival); even so, the movie's treatment of the male-female power struggle lacks surprise. Aselton also fails to make meaningful the script's allusions to the Iraq/Afghanistan war (see 2007's "The Hills Have Eyes II" if you want a full-on if cheap War on Terror horror allegory); however, the broad-daylight sunniness of her movie's violent climax is a welcome novelty. The songs on the soundtrack, perhaps chosen because of the band's name, are by The Kills.

Movie Review

'Black Rock'

Rated R for some strong violence, profanity, sexual references and brief nudity.

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(c)2013 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)

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