Fantasia Fest 2011: 'The Devil's Rock' Review


There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of love out there for the "WWII / horror movie" hybrid, but I'd contend that this odd mixture has yielded some decidedly interesting horror flicks over the years -- and if you've seen and enjoyed titles like The Keep, The Bunker, and Deathwatch, then you'll probably find something to enjoy in The Devil's Rock. A novel New Zealand import that has some cool ideas -- and some slow patches -- this is a low-budget but well-made little horror flick that earns points due to two strong leads and some slick visual effects from the masters at Weta.

We open with a pair of basic but noble Allied soldiers who  are sent to a remote (and very creepy) island to sabotage some Nazi armaments. But once their mission is completed, our heroic soldiers decide to check out A) the massive, desolate facility, B) the Nazis who are running around screaming bloody murder, and C) the horrific screams that emanate from a nearby chamber. One of the soldiers heads down an unpleasant hallway; the other becomes the prisoner of a Nazi occultist who has a voracious female demon chained to the wall.

To his credit, director Paul Campion (a longtime FX artist making his directorial debut) has more on his mind that simple Nazi vs. Demon action, and to that end, for better or for worse, we spend a lot of time in Act II watching Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and  Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland) yell at each other after failed escape attempts. Still, the dialogue (from Campion and co-writer Paul Finch) is considerably more interesting than would be yet another slog through demon-infested hallways.

Which is another way of saying that, despite a few dry spells here and there, The Devil's Rock actually has half a brain in its head -- and yes, horror fans, once it gets down to the demon's dining habits, Campion doesn't skimp on the carnage. The gal who plays the demoness, one Gina Varela, does her director a great service by not overplaying the role with copious eye-rolling and scenery-chewing. Hey, it's probably not easy playing a frequently-naked, shape-shifting demoness held captive by Nazis.

The Devil's Rock earns most of its points for its appreciably earnest approach. The early scenes do a very fine job of setting a creepy stage on limited funds, the two lead actors, both great, keep the chatty bits from ever becoming outright dull, and just when The Devil's Rock slows down for a bit more talk, it still finds a few new ways to deliver the jolts. Overall, a strong first effort from Campion and his team, and one wouldn't be surprised to see them do twice as much damage on their next one.

The Devil's Rock recently played at Fantasia Film Festival, and will soon play at UK Frightfest.