Judge Paul Pritchard will rock you like a hurricane.
War Is Hell.
June 5, 1944. Sent to destroy Nazi gun emplacements in the Channel Islands, two New Zealand commandos, Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and Sergeant Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) stumble upon a secret base, which they promptly investigate. Initially the building appears deserted, that is until a hellish scream rips through the dark corridors. As the two men enter the bowels of the hideout, they discover Col Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland), one of the Nazi's leading occultists, who is attempting to harness the power of a captured demon, in an audacious plan that could change the outcome of the entire war.
The Devil's Rock does itself a great disservice by promoting itself as a blood-drenched horror, when in fact—despite containing some prize gore—visual effects supremo Paul Campion's directorial debut is actually a slow-burning shocker, absolutely dripping with tension.
Right from the off, writer-director Paul Campion reveals a great understanding of how to build a sense of foreboding. Even before the film introduces the more traditional horror elements, the tension levels are ramped up as our heroes search the dark, and deathly quiet corridors of the Nazi base they stumble upon. It's also nice to note how, even so early on, very little is given away, meaning even more seasoned horror fans will find themselves unsure of just where the film's narrative will take them, adding a real sense of threat to each and every confrontation between the heroic Ben and sinister Klaus. When Campion finally unveils the demon, The Devil's Rock is given a whole new level of menace. Thanks to a suitably underplayed performance from Gina Varela, there's a wonderfully creepy air about the demon. Rather than being overtly evil, the creature instead toys with her intended victims, preferring to break down their defenses before striking. What is also notable is how the introduction of the demon massively changes the dynamic between Captain Grogan and Colonel Meyer. Whereas before the two shared a classic good-versus-evil relationship, the two now find themselves with a mutual enemy, which in turn allows for the role of Klaus to be fleshed out more than it otherwise might. The final moments of the movie are especially tense, as the situation quickly deteriorates and the outcome is far from certain.
With visual effects powerhouse WETA onboard, The Devil's Rock really delivers on the SFX front. Though nothing too ambitious is attempted, the demon's appearance is hard to fault, both in terms of its design and execution. Although the film rarely calls for gore, when the time comes to spill the claret The Devil's Rock passes muster with some excellent prosthetics employed.
The film does drag on occasion, with the second act in particular being guilty of treading water. There are also a few issues with regard to how momentum is built up, only to be lost moments later, as the film sputters rather than flows. Even at a mere 86 minutes, the film could have done with a little light trimming to get rid of some of the excess flab that will likely lead some viewers to hold a negative view of it.
The central trio of Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, and Gina Varela really impress, with each delivering performances way above the level one would expect of a low-budget horror. Sunderland brings extra dimensions to the role of Col Klaus Meyer, ensuring we aren't given just another one-dimensional Nazi. Sure, Meyer is evil, but Sunderland's performance really plays on the deviousness of the character whilst also adding touches of humanity.
The single-disc DVD release comes with an excellent behind-the-scenes featurette. Broken down into five sections (viewable separately or as one whole), each deals with a different aspect of the production, and offers an honest account of low-budget filmmaking. "VFX Breakdown" may clock in at less than four minutes, but is still a worthy addition as it reveals the technical wizardry employed to really bring the film to life. A selection of deleted/extended/alternative scenes are included, and complemented by a series of outtakes. Last, but by no means least, director Paul Campion delivers a highly informative commentary track.
Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer, The Devil's Rock looks excellent on DVD. The picture is razor sharp, with black levels that add a remarkable amount of depth to the image. Detail levels are high, while colors are strong and vibrant, even in lower lighting. The 5.1 soundtrack features crisp dialogue, and makes excellent use of the rear speakers.
An effective horror that shows both imagination and brains, The Devil's Rock is a genuine surprise, which sees Campion mark himself out as a talent to keep an eye on.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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