The horror genre is frequently looked down on by film critics. It can often be exploitative, cheap and nasty – three things that if done right can be quite a thrill for an audience. However, it’s a difficult juggling act to get right, meaning that quite a few of these films are just plain god-awful and because of this much of the harsh judgment that is thrown at the genre is often well deserved. If the elements do come together in the correct fashion it can be a delightful experience which offers the viewer an interesting twist on a genre that has pretty much been taken to the extreme (literally) in every direction. Nearly every twist within the genre has been used and abused over the last hundred years or so, and filmmakers have to reach deep to offer audiences something, that if not new, has at least has a fresh coat of paint. This takes us nicely to 2011’s The Devil’s Rock.
The premise for The Devil’s Rock is simple; on the eve of D-Day two kiwi commandos (Craig Hall and Karlos Drinkwater) are sent on a mission to destroy German gun emplacements in Channel Islands. However once they arrive they discover that the Nazis are trying to summon up a demon in an attempt to win the war. Now, there’s nothing in The Devil’s Rock which is particularly new, in fact the idea of the Nazis using the occult was first covered in the Michael Mann film The Keep. However, that was thirty years ago, and the theme is ripe for another take and director Paul Campion does stand up to the plate and delivers a lean and mean little horror that surpasses the expectations of its limited budget. While the film isn’t perfect, it does offer audiences an entertaining ninety minutes or so that isn’t “based on lost footage” or filled with torture porn. It’s an old fashioned affair, which on its own is akin to John Carpenter in its simplicity. The Devil’s Rock has echoes of the Master of Horror’s Assault in Precinct 13, The Thing and Prince of Darkness in its tone and setting. It’s good to see an “acoustic” film free of the shackles of overblown production, but in many ways The Devil’s Rock is almost too simple. The film is pretty much a three way conversation piece. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d rather watch that than another cheap Blair Witch Project Xerox, but I feel that the second act could have been expanded to offer a chase, or maybe even a glimpse into hell or a flashback, something to open the film and give it more scope.
It’s pretty obvious that the failings of the film are down to budgetary constraints rather than Paul Campion’s direction or the script (by Campion alongside Paul Finch and Brett Ihaka), which is a shame because the film’s concept has such great potential. Campion hails from a special effects background who has worked on a variety of high profile films including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, X-Men: The Last Stand and 30 Days of Night, and he must be applauded for going down the route of practical effects rather than taking the CGI option. He clearly knows the genre and there’s even a sly nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark. I feel that, if he was given more time and money Campion could bring something very interesting to the screen.
The Devil’s Rock won’t be for everyone, it’s a genre throwback, that doesn’t go for cheap thrills or gore (although there is blood aplenty) to capture audience attention. Modern gore-hounds may find it a tad on the quaint side, but the more seasoned horror fan will understand the tone and pace that the film is aiming for.