Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Devil's Rock (2011)

It's the night before D-Day. New Zealand commandos Ben Grogan (Craig Hall) and Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater) are sneaking onto a Channel Isle close to Guernsey to destroy a German artillery emplacement as part of a plan to distract the enemy military from the actual direction the invasion is going to come from. Or that's what the titles tell us.

It's pretty clear right from the start that Joe isn't long for this world. He talks about his girlfriend a lot, which is nearly as bad as the old "only one week until I retire" routine for a horror movie character. Grogan, for his part, doesn't have problems like this anymore, for he has lost his wife in a German air road on London, and has obviously not gotten over her death. He might even be a bit suicidal.

So it only comes as a mild surprise when Grogan decides to take a look at the source of the female screams coming from the bunker next to the guns, instead of just placing his explosives and be gone.

Inside bunker, something horrible must have happened: there are exceedingly dead German soldiers - most of them mutilated - everywhere. Soon enough, Tane meets the only survivor of the German troops, Colonel Meyer (Matthew Sunderland), who is only to happy to shoot him.

The good Colonel also manages to capture Grogan, but is distracted from his following torture efforts by something or someone he has shackled in another room whom he feeds with body parts. That's enough of a distraction for Grogan to turn the tables on his Nazi counterpart, but a little game of cat and mouse between two soldiers is the least of his and Meyer's problems.

Turns out that Meyer has done what half of all movie Nazis do, and has summoned a succubus from hell to become the Nazi's secret war-winning weapon, without taking into account how enthusiastic demons can get when it comes to their work. The gal from below likes to take on the form of her potential victims' loved ones, so she's going to spend most of the film as Grogan's dead wife Helena (Gina Varela), trying to seduce him into letting her loose.

Eventually, Grogan might have to team up with Meyer to send not-Helena back to hell. But is a convinced Nazi really a better partner than a demon?

Often, when special effects people turn to the director's chair, they tend to put a pretty heavy emphasis on the effects side of their movies - that's after all the stuff they know most about - and don't really show all that much interest in the acting or writing side of things.

Not so in the case of WETA Workshop's Paul Campion (whose fine short film Eel Girl made the rounds some time ago). While Campion's The Devil's Rock has his share of fine make-up effects, and delightfully gruesome looking dead bodies, it is not a film about these effects. In fact, it's not difficult to imagine the movie made under slightly different circumstances and just not containing any effects at all, instead trusting in the solid acting and the equally solid script to convey everything there is to say to its audience. I don't exactly think the effects are superfluous - and I sure as hell wouldn't want to miss the charming head-munching scene late in the movie - I just have the impression that Campion uses them to embellish a straightforward yet effective little story, and not the other way around.

"Straightforward yet effective" does not necessarily mean "original", of course, and all the elements Campion's film is made of are well-used in decades of comic, pulp and movie storytelling (the film itself nods at least in the direction of the Indiana Jones movies, and house favourite Hellboy), some might even say overused. I'm always a bit sceptical when a film goes into a place that has been so often visited as occult Nazi shenanigans, but watching The Devil's Rock, I found myself mostly delighted by the fact that even the hoariest chestnut can still be quite exciting when presented with enough conviction and an eye for the telling detail (even the German used is - for once in an English language film - mostly correct, even though the "Germans" are all clearly no native speakers of the language and have accents as horrible as mine when I'm speaking English).

There's a pleasant sense of (certainly also budget-friendly) minimalism about the film. It features one bunker, three main characters, lots of dead bodies, and the occurrences of a single night, and Campion isn't trying to give his film an "epic dimension" or something in this ruinous vein. The Devil's Rock is a product of classical low budget filmmaking methods of the good sort, where solid technical expertise (in acting, camerawork, editing, and so on) is used to make a film that knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be.


No comments: