The Freebie, Katie Aselton’s 2010 directorial debut, revealed a filmmaker unafraid to investigate messy, conflicting emotions. The ultra-low-budget indie’s central conceit — that its sexually dormant married couple (played by Aselton and a convincing Dax Shepard) can have one night to sleep with whomever they choose — worked better than one might have expected; it was as if the typically pedestrian narrative concerns of the Mumblecore movement had gone high stakes. Written by Aselton, The Freebie was a slight but sneakily affecting comedic Chamber piece made believable through its leads’ naturalistic performances. John Cassavetes would have approved.
Aselton’s latest, Black Rock, raises the stakes yet again. Written by Aselton’s real-life husband Mark Duplass, the narrative opens as three young ladies — Sarah (Kate Bosworth), Abby (Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell) — embark on a camping trip on a small deserted island off the coast of Maine. It’s not long before we learn that Abby and Lou have been estranged for several years, the result of an egregious case of sexual impropriety. That bit of messiness is set aside when the three unexpectedly encounter a trio of young men whose presence leads to an event that alters the rest of the movie.
It’s clear Aselton intends Black Rock as a slightly subversive investigation of the thriller genre from a female perspective, which is commendable. Yet we don’t quite buy these characters, regardless of their gender, as the feral warriors the setup demands. That’s not to say Bosworth, Aselton and Bell aren’t committed to their roles — a rather uncomfortable-looking nude scene intended to convey the primal nature of the their circumstances seems especially fearless, if also a nod to the genre’s lascivious conventions. The issue here is one of tone and simple logistics.