You probably haven’t heard of Black Rock, and that’s shame. Because this is the kind of small, interesting movie that proves how entertaining small movies can be if they’re interesting enough. No big stars, no flashy effects, no expensive sets, locations or big set pieces. Just a really tight, well told story about a small group of ordinary people in a far from ordinary situation.
Three old friends, Abby (director Katey Aselton). Lou (Lake Bell) and Sarah (Kate Bosworth) all meet up for a reunion, camping at their old child hood escape, a small island with not much to offer. Only it’s not a happy reunion. Abby and Lou have obviously fallen out years ago, and Sarah invites them both (without telling them about the other) in an attempt at a forced reconciliation. Soon after arriving on the island, they meet three Iraq veterans hunting on the island, one of whom they recognise as the little bother of an old school friend. A night of drinking leads to drunken flirting, which leads to an altercation, which leads to all hell breaking loose.
Knowing more certainly wouldn’t ruin the movie, but I think knowing as little as possible will definitely make it even better. Even after I recovered from the neck breaking direction shift in the second act and thought I had Black Rock figured out, it still managed to sucker punch me more than once with some real shocks and surprises.
At under 80 minutes, Black Rock is the kind of economical story telling you just don’t see enough of anymore. From CGI blockbusters, to Pixar animation, to mostly improvised slacker comedies, almost every movie cracks the two hour barrier these days, and only a small fraction of them need to. Black Rock tells a complete story, populated with believable characters whose motivations and actions never seem rushed or artificial, all in under 80 minutes.
Written by Aselton’s husband Mark Duplass, Black Rock clearly benefits from his micro budget experience. As a pivotal member of the unfortunately titled (some might even say, media fabricated) “Mumblecore” movement, Duplass has written and directed some of the most successful micro and small budget movies of the last decade. Here, his knack for entertainment through character rather than spectacle makes his first steps into real genre cinema pay off.
Sometimes, ultra small movies float by on goodwill, generated by the “little guy against the studio system” underdog story of its making. But Black Rock shows that the right story simply doesn’t need a big budget, big stars, flashy effects, expensive sets, locations or big set pieces. This is a great movie because it’s a tightly scripted, well told, well acted story.