Written by: Paul Finch and Paul Campion
Directed by: Paul Campion
No group comes as equipped for horror movie villainy as Nazis. Their atrocities boggle the mind, and no work of fiction comes close to matching the true horror of the Third Reich’s actual deeds. As the horror of those days fade deeper into history books, the temptation to play the events for camp or exploitation has a strong pull. A quick glance at the cover art of The Devil’s Rock suggests a sexploitation romp played for titters. Luckily, this New Zealand export from longtime Weta effects guru Paul Campion (stepping behind the camera for the first time) is a smart, scary thriller made all the better by the superb performance of its three leads.
Devil’s Rock opens on the eve of D-Day with a pair of Allied special ops soldiers landing on enemy shores. They’re sent on a special mission to blow up a German facility as a diversionary tactic meant to cast attention away from the pending Normandy invasion. The two carry out their mission, but the blood curling screams coming from within draw them into the installation. What appears to be a deserted facility in first glance is actual a charnel house of disemboweled Nazi soldiers strewn all over, with their blood painting the walls red. After they split up, one meets an unfortunate end while Captain Ben Krogan (Craig Hall) finds himself captured and at the mercy of the outposts commander, Col. Klaus Myer (Matthew Sutherland).
The cause of all the carnage is a shapeshifting demon summoned by Nazi occult experts for use as a secret weapon against their enemies. She possesses the ability to take the form of the loved one of any man that views her. Krogen sees her as his deceased wife Helena, who dies during one of the Blitzkriegs over London. Forced to work with the enemy, Krogen has to decide how much he can trust the nazi madman, and who the real evil in the build is.
For a low budget film, Devil’s Rock has quite a lot going in its favor. There’s the whip smart interaction between Craig Hall’s allied soldier Krogen and Matthew Sutherland’s nazi commandant. Campion also makes fantastic use of the isolated outpost. The early going scenes, where you’re in as much of the dark as the soldiers is rife with tension. Hallways are littered with half devoured corpses and soldiers that died with a look of terror frozen on their faces. Blacked out corridors give the impression that something dangerous, something hungry lurks just out of view. Campion understands that the build up monster we don’t see is crucial to establishing mood.
If the film falters, it’s in the second act, which is short on action and long on standoffs. The pace grinds to a halt here as it takes a bit too long to set up the inevitable confrontation of the third act. Things rebound in the climax, and Campion puts his FX background to good use without going overboard. The design of the creature in it’s native form is ghastly, looking like the love child of Darth Maul and Bib Fortuna.
As fewer survivors of the era remain, it can be difficult to grasp the true horror the Nazis unleashed upon the world. The acts of atrocity and the sheer number of victims is staggering and often difficult to wrap one’s head around. The concept of turning them into cartoon villains is a comforting one as a means to dismiss the horror they represent. Yet despite the supernatural premise, Campion resists the urge to go big. Instead his commandant feels all too human, and all too real, which makes all the difference in this smart, nuanced horror flick.