We dig deep into the themes of empowerment, survival, and the strength of female friendship in the harrowing survival thriller “Black Rock”.
The 2012 indie-horror film Black Rock espoused praise from many (female) critics for its allegorical exploration of rape culture. This acclaim is not only warranted but erects itself as the scaffolding of another often overlooked and dismissed facet of modern society – the high stakes of female friendship and its role in our very survival.
Black Rock holds a mirror up to society, forcing viewers to acknowledge the many ways rape culture, gender politics, and relationships are inextricably linked.
Sarah (Kate Bosworth) convinces her estranged friends Abby (Katie Aselton) and Lou (Lake Bell) to meet her in a remote section of Maine for a camping trip under pretenses. The pretense quickly fades away as Lou and Abby realize that Sarah tricked them into reuniting in hopes of inspiring a reconciliation between the two women and reestablishing themselves as an unstoppable trio.
The wounds they inflicted on one another over the years have scabbed up and scarred, but they still burn and itch with the right combination of guilt, shame, and an unwillingness to confront their indiscretions.
Nevertheless, the women begrudgingly acknowledge that the past should be left there – and agree to spend the weekend together.
Black Rock runs at a tight 79-minutes, but these establishing scenes reinforce the narrative that real friendship is fast at making up for the lost time.
The bonds between women may wax and wane, but those bonds seldom sever.
Shortly into their outdoor excursion, the women come across a trio of hunters – Henry (Will Bouvier), Derek (Jay Paulson), and Alex (Anslem Richardson). One of the three men is the younger sibling of a man they went to school with, and a false sense of trust blossoms.
There is a chilling juxtaposition between the groups of men and women. The women are on the island to breathe new life into their evolving friendship, and the men are there to kill and consume.
The group sits around the fire, sharing drinks and lude remarks until Abby and Henry sneak into the woods to fool around.
Abby begins to feel sick and asks Henry to stop. He doesn’t. Henry becomes more aggressive and attempts to rape Abby, who defends herself by grabbing a rock and hitting him with it. The blow is fatal. Sarah, Lou, and Henry’s two friends hear the commotion and come running.
Alex and Derek, become violent and accusatory.
The air thickens, and the two groups immediately begin physically fighting. The women for their lives, and the men for some sadistic pleasure disguised as righteous vengeance.
In the throes of their first life and death fight, the women decide that they will survive – together.
The men are bonded by their desire to murder a sexual assault survivor and the other female witnesses – a blatant comparison to how victims are silenced in the modern world.
This only strengthens the resolve of the women – who always have and always will be forced to fight for their lives.
The emotional climax of the film falls between ultra-violent fight scenes between the opposing forces. Sarah has been killed, leaving Abby and Lou to fend for themselves. Naked and on the brink of hypothermia, the women embrace the primal strength within.
It is a fire that is stoked only by the force of their friendship. They undergo a transition from a reactionary state to a proactive one. Not for fun, not for violence. But because it’s all they have.
They remember a map that Sarah had given them as part of her ploy to bring them back together and use it to dig up some buried treasure.
They find a pocketknife in a dirty tacklebox hidden by Sarah prior to their trip. Sarah’s final gift to them. A weapon. A beacon of hope. A reminder that friendship is not about what they’ve done to each other but what they’re willing to do for each other.
Their love and friendship become a weapon they can use to snuff out the men’s connection – a history of violence.
The infamous “Bro Code” equates to murder, oppression, and violence — but the “Girl Code” in Black Rock is a different beast entirely.
Moments before the women decide to go on the offensive, Lou grips Abby’s face and spits, “You’re gonna slit his fucking throat. I got you. I got your back.”
But it’s not the violence that makes this moment so poignant. It’s the belief that Lou has in Abby’s strength, and the courage that belief instills within her meeker friend.
Throughout the film, the violent offenders, Derek and Alex, also share scenes. The men, supposedly friends, spend much of their time bickering and arguing over what they’ve done and what they resolved to do to Abby and Lou.
Alex tries to be the voice of reason, telling Derek that they should stop and reconsider because “They’re just girls.”
Little did he know that their femininity was what would pull them together in a united front.
They’re just girls, and they’re a force to be reckoned with.
Black Rock underpins the characterizations of male and female friendships through these contrasting interactions, allowing them to reach apotheosis when both share the screen.
The male friendship exists with a sustained undercurrent of a power struggle, while the female friendship bubbles with superficial aches forgotten in the name of necessity. Too often are women criticized for being verbally ruthless and backstabbing. Black Rock reminds audiences that, while no one is perfect, friendship is a series of choices.
Women are often forced to make decisions out of necessity or survival, while male friendships are defined by power struggles, sameness, or shared complicity.
In the film’s final moments, Abby and Lou are forced to come face to face with Derek – the only surviving member of the men’s violent trio.
He is armed and rabid. They are wounded and armed only with their renewed love for one another. The women fight like hell to protect the other despite having the option to leave the other one for dead in an attempt to escape. Abby and Lou always choose to stay. To show up for each other in a way they hadn’t in their past.
This is how they win…and ultimately, it’s how we can all win.
Black Rock is a poignant reminder to women that the world is a hungry and brutal place, but we can choose to fight the violence, the oppression, and the fear together.
We can choose friendship when petty hatred presents itself as an option.
This film serves as a reminder that while women should not be defined by or centered around male experiences, our bonds can help us navigate the unfortunate situations when we find our backs against the wall.
Female friendships are often minimized by phrases like, “they’re just girls” or “they’re being catty”. But women are more than that.
Female friendships can be gritty. They can be dirty. They can be messy. But they can also be beautiful, unbreakable, and wholesome. Often all once.
Our friendships are among the strongest bonds on earth, and we will fight tooth, nail, and jagged rock to survive in a society that wishes to silence us.