Directed by Katie Aselton and written by her husband Mark Duplass, Black Rock sees the mumblecore experts take their sharp style into a scarier new territory. That new territory is horror and the pair use all their indie sensibilities and black humour to craft out a horror firmly rooted in genre norms but with a refreshing twist.
Black Rock follows three childhood friends on a weekend away in their home town. The girls have gone their own ways in recent years due to some indiscretions, but one plucky friend has brought them all together for one of their classic camping trips to Black Rock, a secluded island off the coast of their hometown. Not everything goes as planned though, when the group run into three troubled military men just sent back from war.
Black Rock is short on run-time, just hitting 80 minutes, but that hasn’t stopped Aselton and Duplass from being able to flesh out a group of strong characters. Helped a lot by the cast, the characters are believable, interesting and easy to root for. Aselton is brilliant as the lead, she easily handles the huge range of emotions her character goes through. Also excellent is Lake Bell. Bell is an underrated actor that is capable of dry comedy and tough dramatic performances. Both are required of her here and she well and truly nails it. Early in the piece, when the film is functioning more as a black comedy, it is Bell that brings the best out of the script and has the audience giggling. And when the terror hits she handles the frantic panic with ease.
Aselton tries her best behind the camera but sadly falls just short. Whilst she makes brave choices, especially revolving around the films turning point, she is unable to turn up the tension as tightly as is needed. The finale still packs a punch, the winner takes all open-ground ‘battle’ being both inspired and exciting, it is too little too late in a second half that purely operates as a horror.
Duplass’s script also falls into some holes. Duplass has always been able to craft engaging characters, I’ve found his writing has sometimes lacked the necessary plot drive to take his writing to the next level. Black Rock is definitely lacking in this area, as Duplass tries to cover a lot of horror and mumblecore conventions in one short film. He also writes some daft character motivations and actions in the second half, actions that go completely against the development of the first half. His dialogue still manages to be crisp throughout the run-time, which provides a lot of the films entertainment.
Black Rock is better than other reviewers would have you believe. Unlike most modern horrors, the film has superb character development and very solid acting for Aselton and Bell. The only missteps Black Rock has is when it comes to horror, Duplass has written moments of frustrating stupidity and Aselton is never able to build any tension. All said though, Black Rock is an interesting experiment from a pair of interesting filmmakers.