Down East Horror Show
Actress and director Katie Aselton comes back home to Washington County to film the thriller Black Rock.
Actress-director Katie Aselton, perhaps best known for her starring role as the fiercely competitive Jenny in FX’s cult series The League, is a Maine native who grew up in Washington County’s small coastal town of Milbridge.
A few years ago, her husband, Mark Duplass, another talent who requires heavy hyphenation (he’s a writer-director-actor) handed her a screenplay he’d written for her to direct, Black Rock, a horror-thriller with nods to Deliverance but with three female leads. They’re strong, capable, and empowered, but when they go camping together in a remote location, they’re seriously tested. In June 2011, Aselton headed Down East to the 170-acre, Nature Conservancy-managed Flint Island in Harrington to shoot Black Rock. It was her second turn at directing (the first was 2010’s The Freebie) and the second time making a movie on her home turf. (In The Puffy Chair, the 1995 indie that jumpstarted the careers of both Mark Duplass and his brother Jay, Milbridge stands in for North Carolina.)
Aselton called us from the Los Angeles home she shares with Duplass and their two young daughters to tell us about the hazards and joys of filmmaking in Maine and what her co-stars Lake Bell and Kate Bosworth took home from the set.
Late June, far Down East, how was it?
It was freezing. [Laughs]
Flint Island is so remote it served as sheep grazing grounds in the past, and Outward Bound kids were left there to fend for themselves. Was it always your vision of a good place to shoot a movie about danger in the wilderness?
As a kid, it was the view in my window. I literally grew up looking at this island. I originally talked about doing it in Austin [Texas]. But it adds to this almost violent beauty when you’re on the coast. It just makes everything seem so dire on an island, versus, say, a lakeside in Austin. Also, you don’t have to do a lot to make a beautiful shot in Maine; you just aim the camera.
How many days were you out there?
Five days. It was tricky. You’re on an island, there is no power, and you had to bring everything with you, including generators. We had a fast boat and slow boat to shuttle everything. But at the same time it was easy because we weren’t in anyone’s way.
How do you describe Black Rock?
It’s less horror and more thriller, in the vein of Deliverance. It is sort of what I wanted The Descent [a 2005 horror film about a caving expedition] to be. But coming into this movie I wasn’t saying I want to make a thriller or a horror film, I was saying I want to be part of this explosion of strong women movies. I love what Kristen Wiig did with Bridesmaids. I wanted these three attractive girls to be strong and capable and not losing their femininity by being strong, but at the same time, not feeling like they have to compromise their intelligence.
Not babes in bikinis fighting off demons, then?
Lake Bell does show her boobs.
That will sell tickets. She is so beautiful; I felt terrible for Meryl Streep’s character in It’s Complicated, competing with that.
She is seriously the worst nightmare for a first wife. She is the best version of yourself. And she is really smart and thoughtful. I have a girl crush on her.
Does the movie feature some specific-to-Maine-style boogieman? Mutant lobsters?
It is all very based in truth and realism. For me that is what is terrifying, more than having a little white albino living in a crevasse somewhere. What is terrifying is that something like this could happen to me and thinking about how you could get out of that situation. Would you kill if necessary?
What were your biggest challenges?
I very naively went into this shoot thinking this is my turf, and I know it, and it is going to be that much easier because of that. What I didn’t take into account was tides. Usually, as a filmmaker you’re dealing with light. We scouted one location and then when we went back for production, it was gone, completely. The tide had covered it. Plus we were shooting nights on the shortest nights of the year … our horizon started changing at 3:15 in the morning, and we didn’t get complete darkness until 9 p.m.
What made the location special?
The rocks are so smooth and polished, and the way they get chipped away from the land tends to form these L-shaped pieces of rocks that eventually turn into hearts. Throughout the whole shoot I was gathering these little black hearts to give to the cast and crew as presents.
Mary Pols, a film critic for Time and the author of a memoir, Accidentally on Purpose, is a Maine native who lives in Brunswick.