You know actress and filmmaker Katie Aselton and her indie auteur husband, Mark Duplass, from their work on “The Puffy Chair” and TV’s “The League.” Duplass has also been taking the occasional mainstream gig recently — see “The Mindy Project” and his supporting role in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Still, you’re surprised to hear that they’ve teamed for a backwoods survival thriller, directed by Aselton and scripted (or semi-scripted, as usual) by Duplass. You wonder: What would a mumblecore version of “Deliverance” play like, anyway?
Their foray into genre work is unexpectedly sturdy in some ways, shaky in others. The story opens with 30-ish girlfriends Sarah (Kate Bosworth), Lou (Lake Bell, “No Strings Attached”), and Abby (Aselton) getting together for a camping weekend on an island off the coast of Maine. Their reunion isn’t all good times and time-capsule giggles, though. Abby goes along grudgingly, still bitter about some emotional betrayal of Lou’s from several years back.
Their sniping about the dredged-up issue is interrupted, with a start, by a trio of young hunters passing by the isolated campsite. Not the girls’ weekend they had planned, but what the hell, they’ve got enough Spaghettios to share. Soon they’re gathered around a fire with Henry (Will Bouvier), Derek (Jay Paulson), and Alex (Anslem Richardson). The guys’ account of being dishonorably discharged from the military after an Afghanistan stint sounds sketchy (and creatively under-researched), but they’re nice enough. That is, until Henry gives in to a drunken Abby’s advances, she changes her mind, and things spiral out of control. Suddenly, it’s back to hunting — with the women as the prey.
The ruggedness of the setting does a lot to help sustain the various loosely written scenes of indie actors being indie-actorly. Their talk doesn’t have that sense of tediously forced naturalism that it can when it’s all happening in, say, somebody’s cramped studio in the Village. (These girls sure sound like guys at points, spouting dude-speak like “game changer,” but it’s minimally distracting.) Aselton also makes sure that she and her brutalized co-leads look the part. When characters take a rifle butt to the nose here, what do you know, they come away with raccoon eyes, not just a few smudges of glamour grit.
The battered-survivalist immersion even has Aselton and Bell stripping out of soaking clothes to keep from freezing. (It doesn’t feel like exploitation material as the women go digging in the nude for potential weapons — more like fodder for that “Seinfeld” bit about how there’s good naked and bad naked.) But then, the two nonsensically take time to resume their clear-the-air session — seemingly a case of “Black Rock” hewing too closely to the studio model it wants to scuff up. Similarly, the film’s fight scenes are an awkward stab at slicker stuff, with “soldiers” who sure feel like civilians. It’s all a fair attempt, but Aselton isn’t going to make anyone forget Kathryn Bigelow.Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.