Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another Sundance review!
We have a policy here at AICN that I’m very proud of. When covering film festivals we have a rule on writing negative reviews for indies without distribution. With very few high profile exceptions we stick to that decree. Why kick a movie when it's down already?
So I have to thank LD Distribution for picking up Black Rock after its premiere last night because now I can review it!
I went into the movie knowing only that Mumblecore darling Mark Duplass wrote it, his wife Katie Aselton directed it, that Kate Bosworth was in it and it was programmed in the midnight movie slot, which meant it was a thriller or horror movie of some sort.
Before we start on the review I should state up front that I’m not the world’s biggest mumblecore fan. I like scripts, what can I say? But I have liked a few movies that would fall under that banner. Cyrus and Aselton’s own The Freebie were movies I’d put on my “liked it” list.
And for the first 10-15 minutes of Black Rock I was really digging it. Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell and director/star Katie Aselton play three childhood friends who have had a bit of a falling out. Two of the group actively hate the other and Bosworth wants to mend that rift by planning a trip out to a remote island they used to play on as kids. They buried a time capsule and Bosworth’s big plan is to force her two friends to bury the hatchet by isolating them and giving them no choice but to confront each other one last time and, hopefully, forgive each other.
Then some dudes with guns show up and it turns into a cheap, ill-shot Deliverance knock-off, but with girls! Setting aside how offensive it is to show every male in the movie as either blood-thirsty or super-rapey, it’s just the same running-through-the-woods thriller you’ve seen executed better a few dozen times. Hell, just last year there was a film called A Lonely Place To Die that was able to be a real movie, not just a photocopy of scenes you’ve seen before.
After the film, Aselton proudly proclaimed that her husband wrote the script in 18 hours. That’s not a good thing and that’s the reason why everything from about 15 minutes in feels like kids playing with their dad’s video camera out in the woods behind their house.
I heard tonight that Aselton read some of my tweets after seeing the movie and took umbrage to me pointing out that quote from the Q&A, that she and Mark spent months on the script. All I can say is that’s not what she said at the Q&A and yeah, I was being a bit of a smart-ass, but I still feel the script turns from very strong as it introduces these girls to very predictable and cookie-cutter when it actually gets to the thriller part.
I really wish the grey area she seemed to want to hit in the the dynamic between hunter and prey was followed up on. Doing it halfway puts it in a weird, muddled area. Sure, the men are rapey and trigger-happy, but Aselton flirted with one first and it got out of hand, with one of the men getting gravely injured when she defends herself, so I guess they weren’t totally in the wrong for trying to beat and murder the women? Seriously, that seemed to be the logic.
It would have been really interesting if they were able to make the men a little less Snidley Whiplash and have it unclear who is really the villain. If they were all just scared people, each side thinking the other is evil and trying to survive, then I think they wouldn’t have me being so mean on the movie.
Fleshing out the script also would have helped massage the dialogue in the latter half of the movie, which consisted mainly of “Fuck! Motherfucker! Shit! I’m going to kill you! He’s going to kill us! Fuck! Goddamnit! Shit!”
I don’t have an issue with Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell or Katie Aselton’s performances on the whole, but the film lost me less than 20 minutes in and never won me back. What makes me a little angry at the movie is that the core characters and their drama are great and it feels to me like they were wasted when the cartoony bad guys show up and it becomes a standard low budget thriller.
Ms. Aselton, congratulations on getting distribution. I’m sure there’ll be others out there that like the movie more than me. Please don’t punch me in the face if you see me walking down Main Street.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter so you can keep up with my movie by movie thoughts as I Sundance it up! I won’t write reviews of the stinkers, but I’ll tweet my thoughts on every movie I see, good or bad. Tomorrow (or rather a few hours from now) brings movies with Paul Giamatti, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alison Brie and Spike Lee!