Director: Paul Campion
Screenplay: Paul Finch, Paul Campion & Brett Ihaka
Producer: Leanne Saunders
Starring: Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela, Karlos Drinkwater
Country: New Zealand
Duration: 83 min
BBFC Certification: 18
At first glance this looked like another crappy straight to DVD horror movie that didn’t interest me and I almost passed it on for someone else to review, but after noticing that it had been lined up to play at the Fantasia Film Festival and hearing some good things about it I actually got quite excited about checking it out. Unfortunately I set the bar a bit high and was ultimately disappointed, but it’s not all doom and gloom, the film has it’s moments. Read on and I’ll explain as best I can.
Devil’s Rock is set in the Channel Islands during World War II where two Allied commandos have snuck onto one of the islands to sabotage a gun emplacement with the ultimate goal of shifting focus from Normandy where the D-Day landings are set to happen the next morning. While carrying out their mission, the two soldiers hear some terrifying screams so, thinking the Nazi’s are torturing prisoners, they venture further into the base to come to their rescue. All is not as it seems though as they actually uncover forces much more evil than the Nazi’s themselves.
Yep, it’s all demons and witchcraft in this chamber-piece as Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) battles between Nazi Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland) and the seductive ‘devil-bitch’ (Gina Varela) who takes the form of the true love of whoever sees her. Blood and gore soak the set around the three leads as a struggle for power ensues.
It starts very well with a tense opening as the Kiwi commandos traverse a mine-field only to have to creep through a maze of pitch black tunnels haunted by the wails of the ‘victims’. It’s a fairly handsome-looking film too with some effective low-key lighting and decent make-up effects. Hall does a good job as the Captain haunted by the loss of his wife and the film is aided by some textbook yet well-incorporated sound effects.
Unfortunately it all goes a little wrong after the first third. Sunderland’s Nazi colonel rubbed me up the wrong way in particular for a number of reasons. For one, he has a clearly English accent, not German at all which bugged me and in general he lacks the menace required for the role. On top of that his character is terribly written and becomes a walking exposition loudspeaker for the latter half of the film with his handy knowledge of witchcraft explaining everything that needs to be done or worried about in order for the audience to have any interest in carrying on watching.
That’s what really lost my interest, as the finale relies too heavily on the characters following some bizarre rules and spouting text from an old tome in order to conquer the demon. I have this problem with a lot of these types of occult horror movies, I just can’t get tense or excited about watching our heroes have to stand in a circle and chant Latin very loudly. To top it off Hall’s character is far too often duped by the demon into almost believing she is his dead wife or that it would be worth siding with the demon just because she looks like her. The first time is understandable, but when he’s getting close still towards the end it gets tired and ridiculous.
It’s disappointing as the director Paul Campion has clearly put a lot of work into this low budget debut feature and technically it’s impressive for it’s humble cost. There are some moments of genuine tension and the film kept tempting me back onto it’s side, but I just thought it floundered too much in the second half and lost it’s edge when it started to rely too heavily on dialogue and not enough on drama. Fans of occult-themed horror will probably get a lot more from it than me, but I was left short-changed.
Devil’s Rock is out now on DVD in the UK, released by Metrodome. Included on the DVD are a handful of featurettes that break down to cover the whole production process from development to post-production. They’re very insightful and a great look into the production of an independent horror film. Grouped together they are pretty much feature length so it’s a fantastic addition to the DVD that people interested in movie-making will enjoy possibly more than the film itself.