Judge Patrick Bromley got a "C" on the Bechdel test.
Not every island is a paradise.
There is no question that Katie Aselton's 2013 thriller Black Rock passes the Bechdel Test. For that reason alone, it should be seen.
It would have been impossible to predict that Aselton, wife of "mumblecore" (ugh) king Mark Duplass and a star of The League on FX, would have followed up her excellent 2010 relationship drama The Freebie with a survival thriller about three women fighting for their lives. It's too conventional, critics said, and too undercooked. Aselton, an actress and filmmaker known for more thoughtful projects, appeared to be settling for a standard genre exercise. They were only half right.
If you don't know what the Bechdel test is, it's a look at gender bias that examines if at any point in a work of fiction, two or more women have a conversation about something other than their relationship with a man. Black Rock is a movie that's practically about the Bechdel test, as three friends start out relating as just friends, slowly slide into conversation about their relationships with men only to have that violently disrupted, forcing them to band together and outsmart a group of attackers. Aselton, working from her own story and a script by husband Duplass, has made a movie that skirts right up against the Bechdel test before flipping it off.
Kate Bosworth (Movie 43), Lake Bell (No Strings Attached) and director Aselton star as three friends who reunite for a weekend getaway on the small New England island where they all grew up. Aselton and Bell are no longer speaking thanks to an unnamed issue in their past, so Bosworth's plan is to get them all together and force them into making up. On the island, they run into a guy they used to know and two of his military buddies. Everyone has a few drinks. Things go too far. Before long, the girls are fighting for their lives on an island where there is nowhere to hide.
For as much as it seems to be just another thriller, there's more to Black Rock than meets the eye—assuming you're willing to look. What seems on the surface to be a typical "women in danger" movie is, upon further examination, a subversive statement of feminist politics. There is a power struggle—a literal "battle of the sexes"—acted out physically between both genders. Women who are once pitted against one another for the affections of a man must disconnect from that kind of nonsense and team together to survive. Even a scene in which the female stars strip down and embrace actively plays against any expectations of eroticism, in a way punishing the viewer for thinking it should be sexy.
But the movie is not overtly political; it is, first and foremost, a chase thriller. In that arena, it falls short. The setup is good, the conflict is compelling, but once the actual chase begins the movie is unable to remain all that tense or interesting. Making the (mild spoilers) villains of the movie "crazy veterans" is a mistake, as it traffics in the kind of stereotype the movie otherwise tries to avoid and does a disservice to veterans. While there is a kind of logic to the way the men react to tragedy (the screenplay at least tries to ground those connections), it goes off the deep end as it becomes more of a "girls chased by crazy men" thriller. The good news is that it comes to life just often enough to surprise us and clips along at a trim 82 minutes, reaching its resolution without padding things out too badly.
Black Rock arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Lions Gate, a label that typically excels at this kind of genre fare. The film gets a 1080p transfer that's solid, with strong reproduction of the outdoor locations and good detail in the close ups, of which there are many. The lossless 5.1 audio track delivers the dialogue in a clean, straightforward way while providing lots of good, immersive ambient sounds in the surrounding channels, making the best possible use of the outdoor setting. It's a solid A/V presentation overall.
The major supplemental feature included on the disc is a feature-length commentary from director Aselton and star Lake Bell. It's engaging enough and the pair has a good rapport, but the discussion is never quite as in depth either about the movie's themes or about the process of low-budget moviemaking to be truly satisfying. Also included is a featurette on the movie's music, a standard behind-the-scenes piece and the movie's original theatrical trailer.
Black Rock was quickly written off as some sort of all-chick Deliverance knock-off during its limited theatrical run earlier this year, but it's more than just an imitation of a survival movie. Though the thriller elements don't always work, there are ideas behind the genre stuff that make it more interesting. Aselton may not be the new master of suspense, but if every thriller was this thoughtful the world would be a better place.
Worth a look.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Bromley; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.