While the subject of women in peril is about as old as the horror/thriller genre itself, director Katie Aselton, who also stars alongside Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell, is hoping to change the equation a bit with "Black Rock." The movie, which premiered over the weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, presents a trio of women who retreat to an island for a weekend, only to wind up fighting for their lives. As our review of the film notes, unlike standard movies in the genre, which give little substance to the women who are the victims of the tale, in "Black Rock" we get much more characterization, which in turn makes the audience far more invested in their plight.
We caught up with Aselton, Bosworth and Bell in Park City and discussed the challenge of creating a viscerally exciting film that is also plausible, believable and real.
If this was made by a male director, would the film be as empowering as it is?
Katie Aselton: I certainly would never want this to be a victimization story. The only thing they were victims of were miscommunication and poor circumstances. So I don't feel it would be that, but it was really important to me that this be told from a female perspective. We'd actually talked about farming it out to a different director. I was so protective of it, every time we talked about it I'd be like ‘Oh, I'll think about it, and I was like nope, nope I can’t do it.’ I loved this story, I wanted to tell it, I'm like a dog right now with peanut butter in my mouth.
How did you conceive of these characters in terms of the sort of plausible physicality that they had to deal with? The characters trade strengths throughout the movie. Did you guys work closely to develop characterization?
KA: We did talk about the idea of the power shift, where it was like for every time someone loses it a little bit, someone has to rise to the challenge and hold them together, you know? But for me, as far as talking about the physicality of the characters, it was really just as simple as what would you do in this moment, and if that is just freeze up and stop, then do that. I feel like so often [horror movies] go for this heightened performance in a thriller where it's like this craziness, but in reality fear is paralyzing. People get quiet and you draw yourself in and you go inside yourself to figure out how you are going to make it out alive.
We used the idea of meerkats, you know how there's always one meerkat up and looking out for hawks? So with the three girls…whether it was me losing it or Kate losing it or Lake losing it, you know there's someone who's like, “I've got this.”
Well how much sort of acknowledgement of this genre's tropes did you want to do when you were coming up with the story?
KA: For me it was like following the parameters of the thriller genre, using the way I know how to tell a story, which is just simple and natural, but doing it within the thriller box. Well, we've got booze, we've got blood…
Kate Bosworth: But it's interesting, people keep referring to this as a horror film. I felt that it was a thriller…with moments of levity. There's not a comedic aspect to it, but when you have extraordinary circumstances it's clunky sometimes and not well-defined, and therefore there are funny moments that arise because we're human, and certainly these particular humans deal with scary stuff in that way. You know, when they fight back I really like their endearing lameness in what they have to work with, which is nothing. I think for a lot of people in the audience the reaction was like, “Fuck what would I do if I were there? Would I be making a spear?”
That's what I loved about the script and loved about the movie, it was a reflection of what would you do in this situation, because it's so plausible.
KA: I think we would check in at certain times throughout the film and be like alright, does this feel right? What would you do? What would you say? How would you react? And if it ever felt like it wasn't ringing true we would talk about it and really flesh out the honest reaction.
When you're exploring a genre, do you think about a difference between believability and realism? How do you balance the idea of pushing something so that it’s intense dramatically and at the same time feels real?
KA: It is tricky, we are using a fictional story, it's not like we're basing this off of anything real. So it was really creating this arch that felt truthful and natural to us. So we were following these characters on the arch or trajectory that we had already established, and seeing where that would go, and keeping that as real as possible, so it was sort of like just following the ball after we'd thrown it.
"Black Rock" has been acquired by LD Entertainment, and continues playing at Sundance this week. —Interview by Todd Gilchrist