The Devil's Rock
Title: The Devil's Rock
Genre: Drama, Horror
Starring: Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela
Director: Paul Campion
The more low-budget films I watch – particularly horrors, though this could be simply because there seems to be so many of them being made these days – the more I seem to find evidence to support what is fast becoming my golden rule for the genre: Keep it simple stupid. The more complex a film on a tight budget tries to be, the more sets are needed, the more characters need to be properly introduced and the less detailed the outcome becomes. This flick, released just a couple of months ago from the small island nation of New Zealand, is about as simple as it comes with only one set, three characters, and a car-full of gory props that have gone into its making. And whilst it may carry a plot that is a far cry from anything original, it is in its dramatic execution that it finds it's strength, constantly providing a sense of claustrophobia in its surroundings, a sense of horror at the atrocities that have occurred there and a constant mental battle to deduce the motives of the characters.
Set just a day before the D-Day landings in Normandy, it is the task of our small New Zealand task force to eliminate the gun installation planted on a small island off the coast of Guernsey in the channel islands, hoping to distract the German forces from the real attack to come. It is to this island that sees our Captain Grogan discovering and infiltrating an underground bunker upon hearing the tortured cries of a woman held captive within it's dark depths, but inside is far more than he bargained for. As he bears witness to the death and chaos that surrounds him inside these walls, he discovers the last living German soldier inhabiting the island, Colonel Klaus Meyer, as well as the true nature of the work carried out at the installation. Dabbling in the occult, he has brought forth an entity from the bowels of hell intended as a weapon to be used in the war, and it is only through an uneasy alliance between the two that she can be banished back to whence she came.
As dark as the material might be, and as gory some of the props on display from the outset are shown to be, this is not your standard horror fare. It's neither psychological in its nature nor are there many sequences of action; its dark, dramatic and crawls along at a slow pace, carefully making the smallest of details significant as we question the characters, constantly left curious as to what will happen next. A vast amount of the film is quite cerebral in its subtlety, making great use of mental banter between the two parties with the element of distrust running through their uneasy alliance at their demonic foe, both parties constantly trying to maintain control of the situation – and their uneasy alliance – whilst conscious of their far more deadly enemy nearby. There are parallels drawn to the two men on opposite sides of the war yet not altogether that dissimilar, with an ambitious yet powerful subtext questioning the moral ambiguity of any action carried out during times of war that doesn't go unnoticed or fail to make its point known.
By keeping it all simple, and spending time focussing on the smaller details, the director has succeeded in creating a truly immersive experience. The capabilities of the few actors on whom the film hinges never betrays the artists vision and the use of set and limited lighting create a genuine atmosphere that never lets up, only to show the aftermath of the demon's rampage in a manner that the largest scale horror films would be proud of and adding gravity to the situation at hand. But sadly there is one drawback to this film; the at times vague explanations for the plot. The ideology of the occult feels wafer thin and is never truly explained; the details of what the eventual plan for this dabbling is left open to a certain degree of interpretation (albeit this could be for good reason, the German Colonel refusing to let their plans be known even at this stage) and the inherent lack of originality in the prospect of Nazi's conjuring demons all hinder what could have otherwise been one of the more impressive horror films to have come out in recent years.