MAY 21, 2013
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
I don't know why I felt compelled to make an old-school "HMAD Today is..." tweet for Black Rock; even though I've updated a few times since "retiring" I haven't used that opener once, even when I knew I'd be reviewing the film (Evil Dead, Lords of Salem, etc.). So it's somewhat ironic that it's the sort of bland, mercenary horror movie that I grew so tired of that I wanted to quit in the first place - if not for so many movies like this, it's possible I might still be going at it every day for a little while longer.
And thus, I wasn't even going to bother reviewing it until I read this interview with its director/star Katie Aselton, where she dismissed horror in general and specifically name-checked The Descent by saying she wanted her movie to be what Descent wasn't. I'm sorry, but it's bad form enough to throw another "little" movie under the bus (if you want to make fun of Dark Knight Rises, go ahead), but of all the movies to reference, why The Descent? I'm not alone in considering it one of the best horror films of the past decade (hell, we can almost get to 20 years before it starts having heavy competition), so it's a really baffling movie to use when making a "I did it better" argument. Hilariously, while several movies came to mind while watching this chore, Descent was NOT one of them, but now that I think about it, it's a great example to use to illustrate how badly Ms. Aselton (and her husband Mark Duplass, who wrote the script based on her, ahem, "original story").
In The Descent (if I'm spoiling it, you're a bad person - stop reading my drivel and go watch it right now), our heroine finds out that one of her pals was sleeping with her husband, something that may have actually caused his death (he was distracted while driving; presumably he was either regretting or daydreaming about the affair). And thus she gets the ultimate revenge for it (and for the accidental death of another friend), leaving her to die in the cave and providing a distraction to escape (if she did, of course). There's a similar backstory here; Aselton's character Abbie still harbors a grudge against Lake Bell's Lou (short for Louise), who slept with Aselton's then boyfriend six years before, and of course they will have to work past their issues if they're going to survive and blah blah. But there's no payoff to it - Abbie finally lets it go, and Lou doesn't do much to make up for her transgression. Worse, every bad thing in the movie happens because Abbie was actively trying to cheat on her husband with one of the trio of hunters they come across, so there's absolutely nothing to learn from it beyond "Don't cheat", which we don't need a derivative horror movie to teach us.
And it makes her character a rather puzzling one - should we feel bad for her, or not? She got cheated on, now she's cheating on her own husband (not the same guy, mind you), and that's what leads to all of the death that will follow. She drunkenly lures one of the also drunk guys out into the woods and asks him if he wants to have fun, and then changes her mind when he starts getting going. A near-rape ensues, but she kills him with a rock before he actually does anything (I assume? The blocking and lighting throughout the film leave much to be desired, though it's ultimately the least of its problems), but for the sake of argument let's say he's actually forcing himself inside of her when she kills him - fine. But his two buddies then terrorize all three of them... after she AGAIN (and sober, now) instigates them by calling one a pussy and spitting on his face! This results in them killing one of the other two girls and nearly killing the other, leaving Abbie relatively unscathed despite literally every single thing in the movie being her fault. Yes, the guy should back off when she says no after saying yes, I don't argue that - but it's her irrational behavior AFTER that that really does the damage to the group, and she walks away without a shred of comeuppance or even regret. The right way to pay off the stuff about hating Bell's character for so long is to sacrifice herself to save her after getting her nearly killed, but it comes closer to the other way around.
So it's thematically a mess, but does it deliver as a straightforward Deliverance/Mother's Day ripoff? No; if anything it's even more lackluster in that department. Every single thing you expect would happen does indeed happen, without even a shred of originality or surprise - I even correctly guessed (SPOILER) that Kate Bosworth's character would be killed, because she was the most innocent and had been playing peacekeeper between the other two for the entire first act. Someone on the IMDb board had the idea that the movie was actually about a psychotic woman killing these guys for no reason (sort of like a serious take on the Tucker and Dale twist), which would have been interesting - but alas, it just hits every expected mark, making its scant 80 minute runtime feel like double that because at no point will you find yourself seeing something you haven't already seen a dozen times. And I'll leave it to you to decide which is preferable; the off-screen murder of one redneck or the grade-school level effect on the slit throat of the other.
Speaking of them, rarely has a movie of this sort offered such a weak villain team - the leader (and most sane one, presumably) is the would-be rapist, leaving his two buddies - neither of whom have barely spoken yet - to take over as our primary antagonists. I honestly can't even remember their names anymore and it's only been 12 hours since I saw the film, and the extent of their backstory is "they were in the war so they're crazy". But that just adds to the sneaking suspicion I got while I watched the film (which that AV Club interview confirmed), that Aselton and/or Duplass hated the genre, or at least had zero affinity for it. The one-note villains, the pointless nudity, generic plot - all of these are the sort of things that you'd see from someone who didn't understand how the genre worked, and worse, assumed that they DID. "Give them what they want" is the attitude, without even the slightest notion that we want the same things out of a horror film that you can find in a drama (interesting story, sympathetic or identifiable characters, an intriguing antagonist, etc). Yes, there are a lot of crap horror films (even worse than this) made by people who just see it as a way to make money, but there's a difference between a couple of rich dentists in Iowa somewhere trying to cash in on a trend and acclaimed, prolific filmmakers shrugging one out for whatever reason (this was a Kickstarter film; my pal/boss Devin has a theory that they slapped together a sell-able horror movie (the script was written in 18 hours) as a means of raising the dough to buy themselves a new camera). Those guys may be hurting the genre, but they're not actively insulting it and its fans as these two are.
It's really disappointing to see something this lazy from a female director; there should be more of them working in the genre, and if nothing else they should be able to provide a different perspective on its traditions - not stick to them so rigidly that the movie never manages to have its own identity. In short, if you think the genre is beneath you, feel free to ignore it. No one will miss you or your condescending addition to the world of horror.
What say you?