With humans situated as the dominant species, the theme of human hunting is a popular one in fiction. Stories that blend elements of survival and thriller can pose as an allegorical commentary for human dominance, such as Richard Connell’s iconic short story “The Most Dangerous Game”. Many movies have since played off of these themes, especially those belonging to the slasher genre, and most have fallen short because of how their indulgence of the macabre overshadows their concern for story.
Unfortunately, Black Rock is one of these films.
The film starts out, as most of these films do, with a getaway trip. Three longtime girlfriends get together for a camping vacation on the isolated island of Black Rock, with hopes of reducing any animosity that has built up over the years. However, there isn’t much time for bonding after they come across three men using the island as their hunting grounds. At first everything is fine and dandy until at night when one of the men drunkenly forces himself upon one of the women and is consequently killed from her act of self defense. Angry at the loss of their comrade, the other two men begin hunting the women.
On paper Black Rock really caught my attention. Directed by Katie Aselton from a script by her husband Mark Duplass, the film seemed to have the promise of delivering something not found in mainstream films. With Aselton starring alongside Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth, I was expecting intelligently portrayed female characters. However, the performances succumb to stereotypes and offer nothing fresh or unpredictable.
I hate to see a strong filmmaking collective turn out a poor film. The story does not feel fleshed out and many parts seem vile just for the sake of being so. Somewhere beneath the grotty façade is a study of human versus animal that should’ve been developed at the forefront. It’s as if the instinct of the characters has completely taken over for reason, which in itself might be saying something. If that’s the case then what we have here is a depiction of how inhumane people are compelled to go in instances of extreme endangerment.
The fact that the villains are dishonorably discharged war veterans does nothing to the film besides informing the male characters of their military skills. In this scenario, it’s more of a minute element; a character detail that could be thrown away or altered with no major effect to the plot. Though its inclusion does get you to think about PTSD, but not in the most appropriate of ways.
Slasher-esque movies tend to be looked upon as a genre of frequent disappointment. While there are some superb classics that have defined the genre, it’s not like there are many recent movies to prove this conviction false. Black Rock looks like the kind of indie film that can break some barriers and put a twist on the lackluster genre, but it falls to the usual predictable shortcomings.
Black Rock comes off as a film that wants to further bend the rules of gender for its genre. If that is so, this one-trick pony has been outrun many times by more superior films. Regardless, the film is gimmicky and never delivers anything innovative. After all, if you’re going to make a film that fits into such a narrow subgenre as the survival-thriller, you must “own” the material and turn the genre on its head. Perhaps Black Rock was just set up to fail.