J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Black Rock: This Trip is No Fun

Who goes camping on a remote coastal Maine isle during the off-season?  Psycho killers and their made-to-order victims, that’s who. There is nothing inherently wrong with a traditional slasher movie set-up, but the execution is decidedly problematic throughout Katie Aselton’s Black Rock (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Sarah has tricked her childhood friends Abby and Lou into joining her on a camping trip, in hopes that they will bury the hatchet.  Years ago, Lou bedded Abby’s boyfriend.  Still nurturing her resentment, the soon-to-be divorced Abby is not ready to forgive and forget.  When they run into three hunters, the thoroughly annoyed Abby gets sloppy drunk and flirty with Derek, the alpha male, who rather misconstrues her attentions.  This leads to all kinds of trouble.

When one of the sullen hunters tells the women what a hero Derek was in Iraq, no matter what they said at the court martial, we know what kind of movie we’re in for.  Yes, that’s right, they are unhinged veterans.  You might have thought the sleazy psycho Vietnam Vet exploitation film was an embarrassing relic of the 1970’s, but evidently Aselton and her husband-screenwriter Mark Duplass are determined to revive it.  Yes, this is how the Duplass household would like to thank all our men and women in uniform: by suggesting they are an inch removed from Richard Speck.  Really, you shouldn’t have.

Oddly, the first ten minutes or so show a flash of promise thanks to some caustically catty dialogue.  That promise is short lived.  By the time the bound women goad the craziest of the crazies into letting them go so they can hunt them down like real men, audience emotional detachment should reach one hundred percent.  Nor does Rock have the guts to go all in with its gender-based victimization and retribution themes, a la I Spit on Your Grave.  Instead, Aselton and Duplass basically follow the Most Dangerous Game template, chapter and uninspired verse.

To be fair, Kate Bosworth has some nice moments as the somewhat likably goofy Sarah.  However, Aselton and Lake Bell largely blend together as Abby and Lou (or Lou and Abby).  As their three antagonists, Jay Poulson, Will Bouvier, and Anselm Richardson never transcend their characters’ cookie-cutter stereotypes.  Of course, they are not supposed to.

As a horror film, Black Rock is a bore.  Yet, it has the potential to be something far worse.  It is easy to see unsavory elements repurposing the exploitation flick to demonize the American servicemen.  After all, we know the Frankfort terror attack was inspired by Brian De Palma’s Redacted and for weeks the administration blamed Benghazi on a youtube video.  A disappointment on every level, Black Rock is not recommended for anyone under any circumstances when it opens today (5/17) at the Village East.

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