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Black Rock — 3/10

BLACK ROCK (2013, Katie Aselton): 3/10

Three emotionally volatile, dramatic women go on a camping trip to a deserted island, where they meet three shell-shocked male soliders who quickly proceed to rape and/or hunt/kill them. I’m all for a female-centric DELIVERANCE (as seems to be the catchy shorthand to describe this, though that’s a serious disservice to Boorman’s film) but this sets back the gender movement about 60 years. None of the six people on screen is remotely likable, which is saying something given that one of them is played by Lake Bell, an incredibly gifted comic actress (who gets to turn that off completely in this deadly serious exploitation flick) who seems impossible to dislike. At least in your typical female revenge film like MS. 45 or I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, the bad guys aren’t saddled with the baggage of PTSD — meaning this is either an anti-war film arguing that war’s effect on its survivors is devastating psychosis, or it’s just a film that grossly simplifies and/or doesn’t give a shit about soldiers returning home.

Thematic ugliness aside, my biggest problems with the film are purely technical. Aselton’s direction is soulless and barely functional. There isn’t a single shot that reveals any artistic stamp or distinct vision, and at times she lets her editor down by failing to provide enough coverage to cut together a conversation scene without continuity errors. Rhythmically it’s all over the map and feels both way too long and way too short (at 80 minutes or so). The cinematography is ridiculous — night scenes are overlit to the point of comedy; either this remote island is equipped with a monstrously powered flood light at its peak, or the moon is emitting enough blinding white illumination that we should fear it may crash into the earth. Even the static day shots are framed poorly. Seriously, the lack of skill in this thing all around (aside from Bell and Bosworth) makes me realize how much I take quality cinematography and editing for granted.

But I’ve saved the worst offender for last: Jay Paulson (whom you might remember as Don Draper’s ill-fated younger brother on MAD MEN) is… not good. His performance as the head of this stupid triad of rapist/killer soldiers is the kind of thing I never see in a movie that gets legitimate distribution. How producer Duplass and director Aselton allowed Paulson to get on set and deliver this turn is inexplicable. His reactions to nearly every incident in the film are tonally inconsistent, unbelievable and risible. It’s not only the decisions his character makes, but the decisions Paulson makes — the evil grin he puts on as if he’s a henchman in a Steven Seagal film, the shit-losing profanity-laced tirades that make it seem like he’s a college frat boy who just found out he missed last call… none of it makes sense together. I felt embarrassed for him and for the movie at large. Luckily for him, the film was gonna be a bust anyway.

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