"Black Rock" pits three women, camping on a remote island off the coast of Maine, against a trio of U.S. Army veterans back from messed-up tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is where we find ourselves with the legacy of America's Iraq invasion: Apparently enough years have passed, coinciding with the proper quota of well-meaning screen portrayals of psychologically and/or physically damaged military personnel, so that a movie just out for a jolt or two can go the "crazed Vietnam vet" route with impunity. But with a more recent war.
A KickStarter project, director Katie Aselton's film is actually pretty interesting, starting with the way Aselton handles the violence, and what she does and doesn't choose to emphasize. Trying to repair an old rift between Louise, aka Lou (Lake Bell), and Abby (Aselton), Sarah (Kate Bosworth) persuades her friends to reunite for an overnight on the island they used to frequent as kids.
"Fresh air. New start," Sarah says, uttering words signifying nothing but trouble.
Before you can say "The Most Dangerous Game," they learn they're not alone. Bearing hunting rifles, three dishonorably discharged vets played by Will Bouvier, Jay Paulson and Anslem Richardson appear. Around the campfire, a few shadowy stories are told, drunken Abby makes a play for Bouvier's character — and in 80 quick minutes, screenwriter Mark Duplass manages to set the brutalities, revenge acts and survival scenarios in motion with some semblance of style.
Aselton and Duplass are married and, I suspect, of similar minds when it comes to playing around with ancient genre tropes. In his witty script for "Baghead," co-written with brother Jay, Duplass had his way with the cabin-in the-woods horror film. "Black Rock" has far less interest in games and jokes, though there's a bizarre sense of humor at work in such scenes as Abby and Louise, naked, shivering and trying to avoid getting killed, taking time to settle their old grudges before resolving to take down their present adversary. The nudity in this scene, shot discreetly and not salaciously, suggests a couple of forest sprites from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" losing their compass and somehow ending up in an Eli Roth film. It's quite thin, but at least "Black Rock" plays its "kills" for more than stupid gamer's diversions.
'Black Rock' -- 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for some strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and brief graphic nudity)
Running time: 1:20
Opens: Friday. Also available on-demand Friday.