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Black Rock Review: Island of Terror
Black Rock is the story of Abby (Kate Aselton), Lou (Lake Bell) and Sarah (Kate Bosworth), who decide to get away from it all and camp on an isolated island off the coast of Maine. They don’t get off to an exactly stellar start. Lou and Abby haven’t talked in six years due to a falling out. The weekend was Sarah’s idea, and she wanted her once-good friends to bury the hatchet once and for all. I love that we weren’t five minutes into the movie and there’s already massive tension between all the characters. The boat ride out to the island shows us not only some lovely Maine scenery, but also just exactly how isolated the women are going to be from everyone and everything.
The tension between Abby and Lou even overshadows the search for the time capsule they buried in the woods, keeping all three characters in a state of misery.
Things are coming to a head between Abby and Lou on the beach when we meet the only other major characters in Black Rock, three men out on a hunting trip. The men are friendly but are surprised to see other people on the island, and there’s an undercurrent of vulnerability to the way Abby, Lou and Sarah interact with the men because they’re strangers and they have guns. The tension heightens when Sarah brings up the question of deer hunting season, which it’s apparently not at the moment. There’s a quiet standoff that subtly signals the turn Black Rock will eventually take, but Abby breaks the tension by inviting them to hang out for dinner.
During the evening, we learn that the three men, Henry, Derek and Alex, were soldiers three weeks ago, and that Henry saved not only Alex and Derek but their whole unit’s lives. This counters the out of season hunting, which is technically a crime but more aptly demonstrates the shady morals of the men more than anything else. We also learn, a bit later, that Alex, Derek and Henry were dishonorably discharged because of an incident where they used “unusual tactics” to survive. We don’t get any more details than that, but it serves as a fulcrum to shift the way the women (and the audience) look at the men. No longer are they slightly shady but generally harmless people, now they’re potentially harmful.
Abby and Henry get friendlier as the night goes on. She leaves to “get more firewood” and he goes “to take a leak” and they meet in the woods and start to kiss. He pushes for more than a kiss and she attempts to go back to the fire, which eventually leads to her smacking him in the head with a rock.
This clichéd scene signals the turn in the movie from drama to a thriller, though it’s a transformation that doesn’t quite work.
We’ve all seen these sorts of movies before, where men stalk and hunt women, but the logic here is vague and unconvincing. It would be tons easier for these men to report what happened to Henry by disabling the women’s boat, going back to town in their own boat, calling the cops and letting them handle it from there. Yes, they’d have to admit their off season hunting, but since they’ve caught nothing it’s not even an issue. Instead, these two men decide that the only option is to hunt down and kill Abby and take out Sarah and Lou for being “witnesses.”
We’re supposed to buy that the one incident in the military where they had to use non-approved tactics now translates into a death sentence for those who cross them. Or that losing Henry sends Derek into crazy-land with no return ticket. It’s as thin and unconvincing as the rope the men use to tie Abby, Lou, and Sarah up with before they escape into the woods.
What’s amusing to me is that the trailer talks about the “power of friendship” and yet when one of the women gets gunned down on the beach, they never grieve for her or even check later to see if she’s actually dead. It kind of annoys me that it’s an unanswered question at the end of the film. Shot doesn’t always equal dead, and it would’ve been more appropriate for the remaining two women to at least attempt to find out what happened to the one who was shot.
There are some interesting moments in some of the chase scenes. Sarah hides in a tree, barely able to hang on to the branches while the men walk underneath her because no one ever looks up, even soldiers that were probably trained to do so. But I get the feeling these guys weren’t the head of their class in smarts, given their decisions.
They’re not alone in questionable decisions though, the women have their own fair share of not-quite smart moves that make the situation more comedic than it should be.
Black Rock works much better in the first half than the second. I would’ve loved to see it go beyond the usual material we see in stalker/slasher films and really surprise me. Instead, we get the same old stuff with better setup, which is infinitely more disappointing.