Straining to be a distaff “Deliverance,” indie thriller “Black Rock” is unable to shock, much less convince. Following a trio of twentysomething female friends (including Kate Bosworth) whose camping trip to a remote island — unexpectedly inhabited by trigger-happy young war vets — becomes a nightmare, the short pic overstays its welcome through inauthentic chick-flick banter and survivalist action so ineptly staged as to appear laughable. Acquired at Sundance by LD Distribution, “Black Rock” could sink like a stone in the likely absence of positive reviews and buoying word of mouth.A la “Thelma & Louise,” director Katie Aselton’s comedy-turned-drama pivots on a stark incident of sexual violence. But “Black Rock,” written by Mark Duplass, lacks the nerve to deliver its gender skirmish in a manner that could inspire more than a single interpretation. Thus bereft of provocation, the pic plays too simply as yet another pseudo-feminist horror film in which nubile femmes struggle — sans clothing, in this case — to turn the tables on their attackers. Bosworth plays the peppy Sarah, who has organized a weekend excursion with Lou (Lake Bell) and Abby (Aselton) to the island in Maine where they played as kids. As petty bickering ensues, Sarah tries and fails to unify the group by momentarily leading her friends to believe she has terminal cancer. Later it emerges that Abby, unhappily married, is still stewing over the fact that Lou slept with Abby’s b.f. six years ago. Startled to discover that they don’t have the island to themselves, the women meet three rifle-toting macho men — Derek (Jay Paulson), Henry (Will Bouvier), and Alex (Anslem Richardson), all newly returned from military duty in the Middle East — and invite them to share drinks over a campfire. Abby gets soused and flirty after dark, enticing Derek to make out with her and then struggling to put the brakes on when she starts feeling woozy. Suffice to say that Derek isn’t interested in stopping, and that things get rough from there. Aselton, bidding to flip her debut feature “The Freebie” on its head, here engages the darkest side of casual sex, although characterization in “Black Rock” remains at the level of foreplay in the pic’s haste to get down and dirty with horror — at least up to a point. Beaten bloody, hunted like animals and forced to hide on the island’s treacherous terrain, the women nevertheless make time to talk through their differences — loudly (and inanely) enough that the viewer can be forgiven for wanting to say, “Shhh.” Trained killers have rarely appeared as incompetent in a movie as they do in “Black Rock,” whose obligatory attempt to level the playing field between armed men and largely defenseless women fails embarrassingly in would-be action scenes that recall the campy climaxes of ’70s-era “Charlie’s Angels” episodes. Among the actors, Bosworth fares best by far, although she’s forced to take a backseat to top-billed Aselton, who, looking battered but beautiful, gets more than enough closeups to type the pic as a vanity project. Aside from the film’s wholly unconvincing duels to the death, tech credits are serviceable.
An LD Distribution release of a Black Rock production. (International sales: Submarine Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Adele Romanski. Executive producers, Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass. Co-producer, Mary Budd. Directed by Katie Aselton. Screenplay, Mark Duplass.
Camera (color), Hillary Spera; editor, Jacob Vaughn; music, Peter Golub; music supervisor, Marguerite Phillips; production designer, Erin Staub; costume designer, Staub; sound, Micah Bloomberg; supervising sound editor, Perry Robertson; re-recording mixer, Scott Sanders; visual effects supervisor, R. Zane Rutledge; visual effects, ZaneFX; associate producers, Lake Bell, Larry Duplass, Natasa Jovanovic, Jackie Marcus Schaffer; second unit director, Chip Mefford. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 21, 2012. Running time: 80 MIN.
Katie Aselton, Lake Bell, Kate Bosworth, Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson, Anslem Richardson, Carl K. Aselton III.