Black Rock (2012)

Review first published by Film4.

Synopsis: Working from a screenplay by mumblecore maverick Mark Duplass, director Katie Aselton pits three women and three men in a regressive struggle for life and death.

Review: Three one-time schoolfriends – Sarah (Kate Bosworth), Abby (Katie Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell) – revisit Black Rock, an island haunt of their childhood, to mend old rifts (rooted in petty jealousies) and to have what Sarah describes as a “last hurrah” before they surrender entirely to adulthood. Yet as these thirtysomethings start retracing former footsteps, reverting to adolescent idioms (“she started it!”) and exhuming time capsules and ancient grievances alike, they run into three similarly aged men (Will Bouvier, Jay Poulson, Anslem Richardson) – all veterans of Afghanistan – who are also out to retrieve their innocence lost, and who will soon transform the island playground into an arena of life and death.

Like the Duplass brothers’ Baghead, Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die and You’re Next, Joe Swanberg’s Silver Bullets and the entire oeuvre of Ti West, Aselton’s film, written by her partner Mark Duplass, belongs to the ‘mumble-gore’ movement, smartly marrying the timeless thrills of genre to the post-millennial sensibilities of mumblecore. As the young women, stripped of all the trappings of their adult lives, are forced to play deadly games of hide and seek with the island’s hyperviolent bullies, the survival tropes here offer an engagingly edgy frame for the film’s otherwise reflective themes on time’s passage, unresolved history and reluctant coming of age.

“Please stop,” one of the women will say in the climactic confrontation, but by this stage things have already reached the point of no return. All of these characters may in different ways be arrested, atavistic and infantilised – but the clock, ultimately, cannot be turned back, and these six adults who once enjoyed childhood together must now see things through to their bitter end, without simply being able, as they could in elementary school, to reset the game to start.

In A Nutshell: Katie Aselton’s survival thriller sets its themes of time’s passage, unresolved history and reluctant coming of age within a gripping island-set genre frame. It’s like Lord Of The Flies for arrested adults.

Anton Bitel