PLOT: Three women looking to mend old wounds travel to a deserted island they used to frequent as kids. A run-in with some soldiers back from the middle east quickly throws their simple getaway into a struggle to survive the weekend.
REVIEW: BLACK ROCK is an impressive, and unexpected, sophomore feature for director Katie Aselton, best known for her comedic role in "The League" but here displaying a knack for taut suspense and savage drama. Not content to just be "DELIVERANCE With Women", BLACK ROCK works regardless of its battle-of-the-sexes overtones thanks to a crafty simplicity and solid performances all around.
Aselton and Duplass open their film with an admirable straight-forward premise: Three friends reunite at a port due to the sneaky machinations of Sarah (Kate Bosworth), who desperately want her two friends Lou (Lake Bell) and Abby (Aselton) to patch up their damaged relationship. We're not quite privy to why the intense Abby and fun-loving Lou are on the outs, but this becomes clear as their journey to the heart of a childhood stomping ground, a desolate island, commences. Sarah has conspired to use a treasure hunt for a buried time capsule to distract her friends from their lingering issues and bring them together.
Before long, however, the girls discover that (say it with me now) they are not alone on the island. Three men, in the act of hunting game, emerge from the trees, startling the women - although we're not talking mutated cretins who crave human flesh. Rather, the three men are ostensibly normal fellows, one of whom, Henry (Will Bouvier), happens to be familiar with at least one of the girls. turns out Henry and his pals, the stoic and haunted Derek (Jay Paulson) and Alex (Anslem Richardson), are recently back from a tour in Iraq where they were dishonorably discharged. They're slightly "off", but not frighteningly so... At least, not initially.
Soon these two groups will be at each other's throats thanks to a deadly encounter between two of them in the woods, which leads the men to immediately flash back to war-mode and the women to surreally find themselves hunted like animals. BLACK ROCK plays this out like the unfolding of an unstoppable nightmare, not one peppered with ridiculousness or anything dreamlike, but one that seems oh-so-real as you experience it; the kind you wake up sweaty from.
Aselton and Duplass never go too far over-the-top with BLACK ROCK's violence, but when there are bursts of it, it has a significant impact. It also gives a nice amount of insight into the psychological trauma of having to kill someone, even if they are trying to kill you too. Your average exploitative thriller in this mold will attempt to give the hero a great catharsis when they're finally forced to kill the bad guy; here it just seems like one more horrifying ingredient to a devastating recipe for our imperiled women.
The cast is very solid, and the chemistry between the three women is convincing. While Bell and Bosworth both exude sweetness and vulnerability, Aselton bravely casts herself as someone not immediately (or ever, really) likable; even though we understand Abby's pain, we're never really invited to sympathize too deeply with her - until her life is in peril, that is. Aselton and Bell share an incredibly vivid scene where they have to gather their strength and sanity while huddling naked and freezing - it's a knockout, one of those soberingly human scenes only found in really good thrillers.