Black Rock (2012)
“Not every island is a paradise.”
Director: Katie Aselton
Cast: Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth
Synopsis: Three childhood friends set aside their personal issues and reunite for a girls’ weekend on a remote island off the coast of Maine. One wrong move turns their weekend getaway into a deadly fight for survival.
Black Rock is a remarkably ordinary movie in terms of its general storyline — three women on an isolated island become the prey for a couple of ex-soldiers with murder on their mind — but succeeds in generating debate thanks to the manner in which this state of affairs arises. You see, there were initially three men, but when one of the women gives him a pretty blatant come-on and initially ‘sort of’ consents to sex before making a 180 degree about-turn moments later she finds herself having to bludgeon him to death in order to prevent herself from being raped. The issue, of course, is the contentious one of whether she brought disaster upon herself by her behaviour, but it is handled only as an incidental aside to the main hunted vs hunter story. There are any number of ways in which Katie Aselton, who not only directed and plays one of the hunted women but also had a hand in the story, could have made Black Rock an intriguing and thought-provoking exploration of sexual politics, or even the internal struggle with one’s dark side, but she either botches or misses completely every opportunity that arises.
Aselton plays Abby, one of three women friends who gather at a quayside one morning in preparation for a nostalgic visit to an uninhabited island on which they once played as children. At least, all three used to be friends, but Abby and Lou (Lake Bell) have fallen out in a big way, and this reunion is an attempt on the part of third member, Sarah (Kate Bosworth) to heal a few wounds that are still pretty raw. As well-meaning ideas go, this has to be one of the stupidest ever used to manipulate three vulnerable people into a dangerous situation. I mean, what kind of person — other than a selfish one who misses having both her mates around her at the same time — thinks conspiring to get woman number one, who screwed woman number 2’s boyfriend six years before, on an island with said woman number 2 is a good idea? The sort of person who, once she somehow manages to con them onto that island, gets a little teary when they start verbally ripping each other to shreds, that’s who.
A lot of the dialogue is so sloppy that it has an improvised feel about it. Improvisation is a notoriously difficult trick to pull off, and requires actors of the highest calibre, but unfortunately our three leads aren’t up to the challenge, and we have to sit through some excruciatingly dull exchanges before the story finally kicks in. If the dialogue isn’t uninspired improvisation by the actresses than it’s just bad writing, simple as that. After Abby and Lou have inevitably fallen out, Abby sits alone on the beach and proceeds to get smashed on Jack Daniels while Sarah works on getting Lou to mend a few bridges. Before she can, though, this joyful little get together is interrupted by the arrival of three male hunters, led by Derek (Jay Paulson), the younger brother of a former casual boyfriend of Lou’s during their school years. Abby invites the boys over to help her work her way through the copious amounts of booze they have brought, and for a while everything is friendly, but as Abby keeps working on the Jack Daniels she begins getting increasingly flirtatious with Derek who, at this stage, seems like a decent bloke.
After making it clear how cute she considers Derek to be, Abby disappears into the woods to fetch wood but circles around the group so that only Derek can see her and invites him to join her. Once he finds her, they start smooching and one thing leads to another but, as I mentioned earlier, by the time Abby suddenly changes her mind Derek’s too far gone to put out the fire and begins to force himself upon her. Rather than screaming for help from the four other people sitting a hundred yards away, Abby scrabbles blindly for a rock with which she efficiently brains lusty Derek. Just before she does this, Henry (Will Bouvier) and Alex (Anslem Richardson) are explaining to the other two ladies how they were dishonourably discharged from service just eighteen days ago, shortly after Henry saved both of their lives. Needless to say, then, they’re not too thrilled when they discover that Abby has just caved in their hero’s head…
Now, while it’s true that no woman deserves to be raped, regardless of however blatant the provocation which inspires the assault might be, it’s also true that people who behave in stupid ways are asking for trouble. If I was to walk up to the local psychopath and cast aspersions on his masculinity the chances are he would express his displeasure by introducing my face to his fist, and there are few people who would say I wasn’t asking for trouble by provoking someone I knew to be violent, no matter how many sherbets I might have imbibed. So by the same token, a woman who drunkenly — and aggressively — flirts with a young man, then invites him to join her in the woods and then confirms upon being asked by him that, yes, she thinks she does want to ‘do this’ can be said to be at least partly to blame for any misfortune that subsequently befalls her. She doesn’t deserve to be raped, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t partly to blame for creating the circumstances under which a rape might take place.
Having said that, the world painted in Black Rock is a broad one of blacks and whites. All men, even those who present a reasonable face to the world, are really potential rapists whose violent core can be stripped away by a couple of drinks and one revoked invitation. All the characters here are one-dimensional, but the men are shockingly so. But the badness within all men allows the strength and goodness within women to emerge, and any resentment is quickly forgotten in the face of the male threat. The film’s story was shaky enough before the attempted rape and subsequent murder, but it grows worse once the two surviving men decide they will hunt down and kill these women. However, we soon realise that maybe the threat they pose isn’t as great as first feared when we see that, despite having served in Iraq and Afghanistan they’ve forgotten such rudimentary precautions as scanning the branches of the trees around the path they are following. These guys bear no more resemblance to real human beings than the pixilated form of some primitive video game — they’re simply moving targets. The movie would have been immeasurably improved if they had been portrayed as half-decent men who are compelled by their own instinct for survival — i.e. freedom — to commit acts they would ideally take measures to avoid. At least then we’d have some meaningful conflict rather than just a bunch of people running around in a forest.