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Sundance 2012 Review: BLACK ROCK

The multi-talented Katie Aselton (The League) unveiled her newest film Black Rock at the Sundance 2012 Film Festival. Though the screenplay was written by frequent collaborator Mark Duplass, Asleton came up with the idea for the movie, directed it, and stars alongside Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell. It's a contained thriller, well-acted, and suspenseful in all the right moments. To me, this is the perfect VOD movie: small in scope, character-driven, violent, and sparse.

The movie begins with Sarah (Bosworth) luring her two childhood friends Lou (Bell) and Abby (Aselton) to a small, abandoned island off the coast of Maine for a camping trip. Sarah wants the girls to reconnect - the gang hasn't been together in years due to some personal issues between Lou and Abby - and to track down a time capsule they buried there years before (hmm...I wonder if that will come up later?). But an encounter with three hunters on the island turns south quickly when a flirty Abby gets a little too drunk and one of the men doesn't take kindly to rejection. In an instant, the women go from being on vacation to fighting for their lives.

Early on, we discover that the men were dishonorably discharged from the military a few weeks prior, which is one of my few complaints with the film - it feels like a lazy screenwriting tactic. Ex-military oftentimes get a bad wrap in movies, many times playing unhinged characters incapable of reintegrating themselves into normal society. They're demonized so often in fiction that they've become a cliche, but considering the setting, I guess the filmmakers had to decide between ex-military, hillbillies, or escaped convicts to give an explanation as to what they were doing on that remote island. While I'm mentioning problems with the movie, I'll add that at times it feels a bit by-the-numbers, and those of you who watch these kinds of genre flicks a lot may have more problems with it than I do as someone who doesn't watch those kinds of movies regularly.

As with many survival/stalker thrillers, the main characters commit a multitude of mistakes that would make no sense in a real world scenario but must be done to continue the drama of the story. The movie isn't interested in answering questions like, "Why wouldn't he just shoot them in the face right now?" Instead it focuses on getting the main characters into more and more trouble and keeping the audience wondering how many of them, if any, will make it out alive. Black Rock can be conventional at times, but if it's executed well, sometimes that's not a bad thing.

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