Black Rock: Sundance Film Review

"Black Rock"
Jack Zboska

WHY IT WILL SELL: Genre titles from the Midnight section often score deals, and the director's up-and-coming status has buyers curious. Plus, the remote-island survival story has co-star Kate Bosworth's name recognition.

Childhood friends must fight for their lives against trained killers in this indie thriller.

The thriller, already acquired by LD Distribution, finds Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell and Katie Aselton running from homicidal veterans on a remote island.

PARK CITY — A girls-only camping trip goes way wrong when three women visiting a remote island must fight for survival against substantial odds in the taut, muscular Black Rock. The film was acquired at the festival by LD Distribution with a theatrical release commitment. Box office for this satisfying genre item, along with ancillary down the line, should sufficiently cover the reported $1 million-plus price the company paid for North American rights.

Childhood friends Sarah (Kate Bosworth), Lou (Lake Bell) and Abby (director Katie Aselton) reunite for a trip that Sarah has organized to a deserted island off the coast of Maine that they used to visit as kids. A lot of water’s passed under the bridge since then – Lou and Abby no longer speak since Lou slept with Abby’s boyfriend six years previous, leaving Sarah to uphold the peace as they head off to the nearby for their camp out.

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As evening approaches, they’re shocked to see three men carrying rifles emerge from the woods, but quickly recognize Henry (Will Bouvier) as a former schoolmate. The guys, including Derek (a creepy Jay Paulson) and Alex (Anslem Richardson), explain that they’ve recently returned from serving in the military in the Middle East and are on the island hunting (illegally, the women surmise). Abby invites the three to join them for a fireside dinner, where she becomes increasingly drunk and flirtatious with Henry.

A woodsy make out session gets too intense when Henry becomes overly aggressive and Abby desperately grabs a nearby rock and cracks him on the head, killing him. Derek and Alex are beyond angry over the death of their comrade, turning on the women and setting up a life-or-death conflict that can only end in tragedy.

Working from a ruthlessly efficient script by husband Mark Duplass, Aselton effortlessly sets up the women’s reunion scenario before effectively flipping the action from drama to thriller. Chase scenes through the woods and the women’s action sequences confronting the soldiers are a bit stiffer and less plausible, but adequately accomplished, campy as they may sometimes seem.

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Characterization is the weak link, with the women alternately revealing too little backstory or wallowing in emotionality. The performances hew perhaps too closely to genre stereotypes, but as often as the film approaches B-movie territory, Aselton manages to reestablish equilibrium by returning to her “no means no” central theme. Kick-ass songs by The Kills complement Peter Golub’s energetic score and other production values reach beyond the mid-range of indie quality.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Park City at Midnight

Production company: Black Rock the Movie, LLC

Cast: Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell, Katie Aselton, Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson, Anslem Richardson

Director: Katie Aselton

Screenwriter: Mark Duplass

Producer: Adele Romanski

Executive producers: Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass

Director of photography: Hillary Spera

Production designer: Erin Staub

Music: Peter Golub

Sales: Submarine Entertainment

No rating, 83 minutes