The premise is deceptively simple: A group of girlfriends reunite on a Maine camping trip for the first time in years. They come across three military men, long-ago acquaintances from school, and the groups merge for a lakeshore party. Alcohol is imbibed, and one of the girls heads off to the woods with one of the men.
And that’s where new film Black Rock turns into The Most Dangerous Game: Men vs. Women edition. The leading ladies—played by Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, and Kate Bosworth—are sympathetic from the start because of their begrudging effort to get past old differences. Being that this is a brisk 79-minute film, not much time is devoted to the girls’ backgrounds past their friendship. But the film is insists that they’re not “cannon fodder” for the bad guys, an empathetic difference between Black Rock and similar flicks that kill off the characters with no remorse.
Black Rock’s story is a loose allegory of rape culture. Instead of the party going smoothly, one of the men attempts to rape Lake Bell’s character, she fights back, and in her struggle, kills the attacker. His enraged cohorts decide to murder all the girls for revenge. After the attack and death, the men only see the fact that she murdered him while the woman’s friends decry the attempted assault. You can hear the words “self-defense” and “rape” fall on deaf ears as the men yell that the woman “lured” their friend into the woods for sex. The only way to right the situation in the soldiers’ minds (other than run for the town doctor) is to kill the survivor and her supporters.
Although filmmaker Mark Duplass shares co-writing credit and producing credit with his wife, director Katie Aselton, the film is set firmly from the viewpoint of the women and lacks many of Duplass’ trademarks—his messy handheld style can’t muck up a movie shot in the dark as Aselton shows much more conventional control of her camera. She desaturates the movie’s colors, giving the film a sense of foreboding long before we set foot off the grey mainland.
So what is the horror in this horror film? Black Rock is much more complex than your average run-of-the-mill “run from danger, pretty lady” kind of movie. Instead, it’s a bro-code that terrorizes women and instead of scene after scene of blood and guts, Black Rock’s horror is muted, taking place mostly in the tense fight sequences with men twice their size. Director Aselton credit is onto something. She knows how to foster and capture the camaraderie of her lead characters, and she also knows how to shoot her story. Goodness knows we need less triggering entries into the horror genre.