New Zealand. 2011.
Director/Story – Paul Campion, Screenplay – Paul Campion, Paul Finch & Brett Ihaka, Producers – Leanne Saunders, Photography – Rob Marsh, Music – Andrea Possee, Visual Effects Supervisors – Jake Lee & Frank Rueter, Visual Effects – Ohu Effects, Makeup Effects – Sean Foot, Demon Makeup Effects – Weta Workshop (Designer/Supervisor – Richard Taylor), Production Design – Mary Pike. Production Company – Severe Features.
Craig Hall (Captain Ben Grogan), Matthew Sunderland (Colonel Klaus Meyer), Gina Varela (Helena/Demon), Karlos Drinkwater (Sergeant Joe Tane), Geraldine Brophy (Voice of The Demon)
1944, the eve of the Allied D-Day invasion of Normandy. Two New Zealand soldiers, Captain Ben Grogan and Sergeant Joe Tane, are sent on a mission to Forau Island in the British Channel Island to sabotage the Nazi base there and create a diversion. As the two enter the bunker, they discover the eviscerated corpses of German soldiers everywhere. Joe is killed and Ben captured by SS officer Colonel Klaus Meyer, the sole remaining German. Ben makes an escape but discovers that the woman that Meyer has prisoner is his wife Helena who he saw killed in the Blitz. Meyer tries to get Ben to see that it is in fact a demon that takes the form of people’s loved ones and that the only way the demon can be imprisoned again is for the two of them to cooperate to conduct the ritual of banishment.
The Devil’s Rock was a debut film for New Zealand director Paul Campion – no relation to the better known New Zealander of the same name, Jane Campion, the director of An Angel at My Table (1990), The Piano (1993) and In the Cut (2003). Campion is British born but emigrated to New Zealand in the late 1990s. He had previously worked as a matte painter at Weta Digital (and several other visual effects companies). He began directing with two short films that fall into the comedy horror vein, Night of the Hell Hamsters (2006) and Eel Girl (2008), before mortgaging his home to make his feature-length directorial debut with The Devil’s Rock, although he has yet to direct another film and had since returned to visual effects.
The Devil’s Rock is a venture into the genre of World War II supernatural films. This began with Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983), which had Nazis trying to deal with an ancient evil that had been unearthed in a fortress, and was taken up by several other subsequent efforts such as The Bunker (2001), Below (2002) and Deathwatch (2002), while this period also saw a revival of the Nazi zombie theme with Outpost (2007) and sequels, Dead Snow (2009) and Bunker of the Dead (2015), and other oddities like Iron Sky (2012) and Nazis at the Center of the Earth (2012) about Nazi enclaves survived into the present-day. Paul Campion’s plot draws heavily upon the basics of The Keep, borrowing elements like the forbidding stone forest and Nazis (who are representative of the ultimate evil) coming up against a supernatural occult evil that has been unleashed and is eliminating their numbers.
The Devil’s Rock starts well. Paul Campion creates reasonable tension during the venture into the bunker, the discovery of gored bodies everywhere (this is not a film that stints when it comes to the splatter element) and then finding occult symbols and books, before the characters are killed/captured. The only complaint during these sections might be that the score leaps off into cliche devil worship movie cues of atonal choirs the moment Craig Hall starts looking through the occult tomes.
Things improve majorly with the introduction of Matthew Sunderland – an actor best known for playing mass murderer David Gray in the New Zealand true-crime film Out of the Blue (2006). Where in Out of the Blue, Sunderland was a shadowy figure defined only by his surly blankness, here he gets to do some real acting. Craig Hall is largely cast as a regular Kiwi Bloke without too many shadings but the middle of the film is absorbed by Sunderland’s cool understatement (if sometimes forgotten German accent). The film attains a fine tension during the interrogation scenes and the casual cruelty of the scene where Sunderland burns the photo of Craig Hall’s dead wife.
The major complaint might be that the film’s low budget gets in the way of a more full-blooded film. This has essentially mandated that the film only take place between two actors. There is a second member of the Kiwi commando unit but he is killed off in the first few minutes (before Matthew Sunderland even enters the scene). A better budgeted US film would no doubt have expanded the cast and had a series of supplemental killings occurring throughout.
The latter third of the show is taken up by the encounter with the female demon that Sunderland keeps chained up who takes the form of Craig Hall’s dead wife (Gina Varela). The climactic scenes where they conduct an occult ceremony to banish her take more than a few leaves from Hammer’s The Devil Rides Out (1968).
Full film available online here:-