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October 13th, 2014


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08:53 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Black Rock
I feel like I know how to pick a good Kickstarter film project. I've attempted to fund a couple that didn't meet their goals, but generally, I contribute enough to get a DVD or a streaming copy, and if the cost seems too high, I don't bother. I've done this a couple of dozen times, gotten my name in the credits of a couple of dozen shorts, and I feel pretty good about it.

Black Rock is the earliest feature-length film I've seen that was backed by a Kickstarter campaign. I wasn't aware of that until after I'd seen it, but I'd call it a success. It may have been made on a shoestring budget, but it's professionally executed and it looks good. Maybe that's not an appropriate thing to bring up at the beginning of the review, but it's what I'm thinking about at the moment.

I don't believe I'd heard of Black Rock before, but I was getting together with a friend who'd rented it and needed to watch it. She hadn't seen it either.

The film follows three childhood friends, Sarah, Lou and Abby, on a weekend trip to the island where they spent some good times in their younger days. Now a decade out of college, they have drifted apart, not least because Lou had a fling with Abby's boyfriend six years ago. They haven't spoken since, and though she has moved on with her life, Abby is still upset. Neither Lou or Abby was aware that the other was invited, and it takes no small amount of coaxing and smoothing on Sarah's part to get them all into the boat together.

Eventually, things settle down into a tense, forced congeniality. They've all been friends before, and it can work again, but--it might not be worth it. People grow up and move on, and Lou and Abby no longer have much in common. The island gives them plenty of other things to think about, though, what with setting up camp and finding firewood and such.

Soon they run into a group of hunters: three men, also around their age, maybe a little younger. They're veterans of the Iraq war, and around the campfire later they casually mention that they were dishonorably discharged together. We don't their crime, but the implication is that they used unnecessary violence to mollify a dangerous situation.

As the night wears on, they drink and talk and a certain amount of sexual tension builds. Abby and Lou are interested in the same guy, but it's Abby who goes looking for firewood with him, and the two of them end up kissing. He wants more than a kiss and won't take no for an answer. She picks up a rock during the ensuing struggle, she accidentally kills him with a blow to the head.

Roger Ebert used to maintain a dictionary of movie cliches and conventions. I'm too lazy to look it up, but he must have had a term for the moment in the movie where everyone decides en masse to do the wrong thing. In this case, the suggestion that they contact the police is roundly shouted down, and the remaining two guys make it clear that they expect retribution for their fallen comrade.

The hunters pursue the women through the forest for the rest of the night and into the following day. Injuries are sustained, and worse. At some point the women realize that escape is not enough--they are going to have to kill.

All in all, it's a tightly made thriller, even though it's definitely missing the supernatural element that I like in my horror. The female characters make a lot of poor choices, but I'd still characterize them as smart, resourceful, and well-written. The male characters fare a bit worse, but you can justify that between their drunkenness and morning-after decision that they're in too deep to give up.

Some critics cheer too heavily, I think, about the "no means no" message of the film, but maybe I'm just embarrassed that we're still fighting the same battles that my parents' generation thought they'd won when they were half my age. People also make a lot of the fact that the antagonists are veterans, but I think the intention was not so much to make political commentary as it was to establish the three as a fraternity. The dishonorable discharge thing strikes me as bad writing--why would you volunteer that information to a person you've just met, especially when you're flirting? These are rhetorical questions. I'm engaging in a lazy equivalent of thinking out loud.

Here's the trailer.

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31 Days of Halloween: Black Rock - Garmonbozia for the soul.

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