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The Devil’s Rock (2011)

Director: Paul Campion
Starring: Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela, Karlos Drinkwater
Certificate: 18
Running Time: 83 minutes
Cinema Release Date: 8th July 2011

“What in God’s name have you got here?”
“Nothing in God’s name, I can assure you of that.”

Here is a film that eschews the current trends in horror to deliver something of a throwback to early eighties horror cinema. So the ‘Saw with Swastikas’ quote slapped on the DVD cover is completely at odds with the film’s ethos. While The Devil’s Rock certainly doesn’t skimp on the gore, using such a lazy comparison to sell the film does it no favours.

The premise is nothing new. The Keep, The Bunker, The Devil’s Tomb, Su-Chang Kong’s R-Point and GP506 have all explored similar territory. Yet it’s 2008’s Outpost and the opening to Hellboy that The Devil’s Rock resembles most, as both deal with Nazis’ meddling with the occult.

Craig Hall and Karlos Drinkwater give fine performances as Kiwi soldiers on a mission, to destroy a German gun emplacement on the small channel island of Forau, in preparation for the D-Day landings. It’s a film that gets off to a slightly uneven start as the exchanges between the two soldiers sounds far too contemporary. It isn’t until they enter the enemy fortification that The Devil’s Rock finally develops a true sense of its time and place.

And what a formidable looking place it is. The remarkable structure was based on an actual WWII observation tower on Guernsey. It’s here that things take a turn for the weird and – distracted from their mission by the realisation that something is seriously amiss – they descend into the bowels of the concrete structure. It’s a dense, claustrophobic environment with the weight of the place bearing down on the two interlopers as they search the long corridors that curve away into impenetrable darkness.

Here we encounter Matthew Sunderland – Nazi officer – Meyer. He makes no attempt to sound particularly German and adopts a clear English accent throughout. Probably a wise move considering the reams of dialogue his character delivers. It is the relationship between Grogan (Hall) and Meyer that provides real backbone to the story. Both are terrific in their scenes together as they overcome mutual mistrust and hatred to cooperate. With confident, unfussy direction – WETA visual effects guy – Paul Campion shows that he’s a natural. Unobtrusive camerawork gives his actors room to do their stuff with all the cast making the most of the superior dialogue. There’s no doubt that it is Campion and British author Paul Finch’s screenplay that really sets the film apart from the usual horror fare. Exposition is, initially, kept to a minimum and the way the characters react with each other is wholly believable.

The final third of the film takes place in only two rooms. This may come across as rather stage-bound, and on occasion it did feel more like watching a play. Consequently, the labyrinth of tunnels used so effectively early on play no part in the final showdown between good and evil…and the positively diabolical.

By consistently favouring traditional visual and make-up effects over computer-generated imagery the filmmakers’ bring a palpable sense of danger to the proceedings. When the demon finally reveals itself it isn’t a digital afterthought but physically real. It’s an impressive, wondrously seductive creation. Portrayed by Gina Varela, and looking like the little sister of Tim Curry from Ridley Scott’s Legend, she’s a sinuous red skinned, horned man-eater – literally. During the final confrontation, a scene that evokes memories of The Devil Rides Out, she prowls about a protective chalk circle casually chipping away at the soldiers’ fragile alliance.

Whilst by no means flawless, The Devil’s Rock is still an impressively gory little treat, whose strengths lie in the areas where most low budget horror films are weakest. There are strong performances all round coupled with an unusually intelligent screenplay.

NEIL WILLIAMS

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