Film: The Devil's Rock
UK Release date: 11th July 2011
Director: Paul Campion
Starring: Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela, Karlos Drinkwater
Country: New Zealand
Reviewer: Daryl Wing
First time director Paul Campion is best known for his work as a visual effects artist on classic trilogies Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as the outstanding Sin City and Greek legends dud Clash of the Titans. It surely bodes well for his first feature-length, a war-torn horror, whetting the appetite for gory mayhem galore. But has Campion got what it takes to step up a level, or will The Devil’s Rock be bowed down beneath a burden akin to Greek Titan Atlas after rebelling against Zeus?
It’s the eve of D-Day and allied commandos are carrying out sabotage raids on the German occupied Channel Islands to draw attention away from Normandy.
On Forau Island, two New Zealand comrades, Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and Sergeant Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) have been sent to destroy gun replacements, but after negotiating a tricky route to their target a woman’s screams lure them into an isolated fortress.
It’s here they discover the attractive female Helene (Gina Varela), held captive by rusty chains, surrounded by mutilated bodies, and after resistance from Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland), Grogan has to decide whether he’ll help the girl escape the island or stop a Nazi occult plot to unleash demonic forces in order to win the war…
Campion’s The Devil’s Rock is an engaging, neatly constructed horror whose conventionality is never endangered by the supernatural violence it could depict – dismembered bodies may be strewn across the blood-stained floors, while others (one in particular has a rifle rammed down its throat) are slumped across the walls coated in vital fluid, but for the most part the horrors are hidden away like the devil herself.
This could’ve been a grimy, torture-porn tribute to films like Saw, albeit on a smaller budget, so it’s nice to report that the blunt savagery has been replaced by subtle bloodshed (for the most part), characterization and excellent performances from our two male leads. Sunderland as the sly Colonel Meyer is the standout, with his “we’re both in the same shit” persona managing to convince Hall’s Grogan that it’s best if they stick together. The Grogan character is let down by his indecisiveness - all too often it gets him into far too much trouble, and his inability to think rationally questions how he has been so well-rewarded career-wise, let alone stay alive.
The opening, which sees Grogan and comrade Sergeant Tane (a sadly underused Karlos Drinkwater) looking to destroy gun replacements, impresses with its washed-out visuals and tense plotting fused with deliciously entertaining dialogue that adds artful backstory to a gripping preamble. Add to that a tense crawl through the fortress, one scene shocking with its unseen brutality, and a neat standoff between our two foes means that the opening act genuinely zips by with frequent flutters of excitement. Even the slightly talky second act has enough good moments to enjoy, but this all depends on whether or not the viewer can suspend disbelief and accept a twist that may turn The Devil’s Rock into a bit of a farce.
Campion certainly tries his best to restore some of its early protocol with Meyer delivering a few lines that throw us back on track; the majority of viewers hopefully convinced by now that the devil can rip its victim apart by becoming the someone they thought was the love of their life, but Grogan will still have you screaming at the screen for his inability to trust a Nazi over his dead wife, no matter how many times Meyer utters “fairytale bullshit”. The other major bugbear is a revelation that would allow for easy escape, and yet, once again, the auteur cleverly persuades us to believe that there’s little point in flying the waters when the biggest weapon of all is unable to.
Before all this though is a cheekily dramatic awakening and one of the finest removing-a-bullet scenes in the history of bullet-removing scenes you’ll ever witness - that's if you can bear to look. You’ll still be questioning whether Grogan is just happy to hear his slaughtered spouse’s voice after all these years though, but to be fair, she sounds a hell of a lot better than the camp, almost laughable powers of articulation from the real villain of the piece – a tranny-she-devil that disappoints far more than it delivers – hardly a devil to die for, whether it’s a lesser demon or not.
Still, she’s more exciting than the lengthy setting up of a ritual, which basically involves drawing circles with chalk while our antagonist struggles to break down the door keeping her from her next meal. Luckily, the final act finally reawakens along with one of the diseased in a genuinely hilarious moment of madness, even if the zombie comes across more drunk than dangerous, and a fine act of betrayal once again disguises Grogan’s implausible anguish.
Gina Varela is finally able to tease us after a stuttering performance, hindered by her unholy, and unfrightening true self, including daft dialogue such as “you bastard son of Adam” that hardly delivers the chills such a villain warrants – maybe Campion’s script (co-written with Paul Finch) would’ve been more provocative if he had worked as a visual effects artist on The Exorcist rather than Eragon. Having said that, the rivetingly repellent effects on show here are reason enough to watch.
Despite a devil who would clearly prefer to wear Prada, The Devil's Rock is a promising start for first-time director Paul Campion. With some good performances, plentiful gore, and an intriguing premise that throws up enough surprises, it sure does whet the appetite for future projects. This could do for Campion what Dog Soldiers did for Marshall.