Film Review: Black Rock

Nifty little genre gem with its share of surprises has three damsel campers in distress on an isolated island they didn’t know they’d be sharing with three hunters back from overseas battle and with too much fight left in them.

Shucking interfering annoyances like vampires, other paranormal nonsense and tired gimmicks, Black Rock is a thriller riff that gets down to basics while getting the job of entertainment done very well. Its pedigree suggests such above-par results: The film is pretty much a family affair. (Writer Mark Duplass, a certified indie star and director, wrote the script for his filmmaker wife Katie Aselton, who directs and co-stars, and he and filmmaker brother Jay Duplass executive produced).) Whether indie or thriller fans will comprise the most traffic, the film should notch respectable business with both.

The genre-ready story begins with a short getaway from the Maine mainland to a small, isolated island that had been a retreat for childhood friends, now 20-somethings. Sarah (Kate Bosworth) is the most grounded, that familiar leader and mediator found in every clique; Abby (Katie Aselton), the one who also looks like she got everything right except for the grudge she holds and hides against Lou (Lake Bell), the least stable of the trio. One of these femme pals will be the instigator for what goes very wrong.

Sarah, in an attempt to reconcile her two friends so they get past Lou’s indiscretion that Abby won’t let go of, masterminds this camping trip to the nearby island they loved as kids as a way to restore the friendship that once bound them.

Once there and to their surprise (and worse to come), they run into three hunters—soldiers back from overseas—scouting the island known as Black Rock for prey. There’s macho Henry (Will Bouvier); Derek (Jay Paulson), a traumatized vet who’s been dishonorably discharged, and Alex (Anslem Richardson), who seems the best bet of the lot.

Audiences may get a whiff of trouble ahead, but not the women. They share a campfire with the guys, who talk about their recent return from the Iraq/Afghanistan mess. And the group also swaps anecdotes about their school connections back on the mainland. One of the women, drinking a bit too much, gets overly flirty with Henry, who is soon chasing her with his flashlight into the woods. He catches her, becomes aggressive and she resists. But he’s been in combat and away from girls too long, so the inevitable happens, with deadly results. The three women flee the campsite area, accidentally separating in the process, while the men go hunting for bigger game than initially intended. Before darkness finally affords the women an opportunity to find their boat (but will they?), blood flows and a showdown becomes unavoidable.

Deceptively formulaic as a genre piece, Black Rock—intelligent, real and often surprising—commands our attention and respect. Best of all, it entertains. Nature-drenched and natural, the sharp and convincingly delivered dialogue often overlaps, as in real conversations. Initial mood-busting music finally settles down to let suspense elements build. The locale, with its piney woods, Northeast foliage colors and lush ground cover when rocky protuberances don’t interfere, is special but not so distracting that it interferes with the front-and-center nastiness going on.