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THE DEVIL’S ROCK, a so-so supernatural flick from New
Zealand, doesn’t feel fresh so much as uncommon. The broad story strokes are
recognizably horror formula, as we watch a pair of friends enter unfamiliar territory
and get in over their heads at the hands of sinister forces. The details,
however, are all skewed.
The setting is the European theater of WWII, the unwitting
innocents are a capable pair of Allied soldiers on a covert mission and the
menace results from Nazi soldiers dabbling in black magic. The movie certainly
spends much of its time resembling a dry-humored war movie, similar to David
Twohy’s BELOW, a ghost story that was often indistinguishable from a submarine
thriller. While THE DEVIL’S ROCK (out on DVD from Entertainment One) suffers
from endlessly talky and mystifying scenes, the strong atmosphere, suspense and
plentiful blood and guts do result in some occasionally diverting but never
particularly inspired fun.
The story opens just before D-Day, with a pair of Kiwi
soldiers, Grogan and Tane (Craig Hall and Karlos Drinkwater), descending upon a
German stronghold in the Channel Islands for a covert sabotage mission. The two
encounter visibly spooked Nazis (one appears to beg to be rescued) and the
hangdog-featured Colonel Meyer (Matthew Sutherland), who transitions from
antagonist to ally in the face of a common threat. This mutual enemy appears as
either the image of Grogan’s wife or a red-skinned demon, played in both
incarnations by graceful, hungry-eyed Gina Varela.
The cast does solid work and the details create a
claustrophobic, promising premise, but just when you think the goods are about
to be delivered, we get dialogue sounding like that in any number of
possession/exorcism movies and emotions that simmer when they should explode.
Andrea Possee’s beat-you-over-the-head musical score leaves something to be
desired, and seems to be doing work that director/co-writer (and WETA FX
artist) Paul Campion didn’t, pushing the soundtrack toward intensity while the
images onscreen remain low-key. While the movie never really grabs you, the
filmmaking is confident and assured, only betraying the low budget via the
cramped sets and otherwise serviceable makeup FX shot and lit so as to be
unconvincing. So THE DEVIL’S ROCK is hit-and-miss, but what movie can be all
bad when, during an incantation, the straight-faced exorcist shouts “F**k you,
To the disc’s credit, those who give the film a chance will
be pleasantly surprised by a trove of interesting extras focused on hands-on
indie horror filmmaking. Notable among them is an “Alternate Multicam Takes”
segment, with footage of scenes from multiple camera angles playing
simultaneously for comparison to the final edit. Perfect for aspiring filmmakers,
the feature provides a virtual lesson in editing choices. Also cool is “VFX
Breakdown,” which shows the stages of certain composite shots from storyboard
to final color grading. The shots range from landscapes to a muzzle flash to
the very floor of the room in the climatic confrontation, all infinitely more
convincing than the cramped sets and prosthetics. That the composites never
register as FX while you watch is another example of the low-budget ingenuity
on display, expanding the scope of an unfortunately limited story.
The other supplements include a low-energy but informative
director’s commentary, a reel of chummy, you-had-to-be-there outtakes and a
cheerful behind-the-scenes featurette that emphasizes the good-humored crew
through every stage of production. The features don’t redeem the movie, but do
reveal THE DEVIL’S ROCK to be the sum effort of some committed troupers working
as a team. Even middle-of-the-road films require enormous effort, and the cast
and crew of THE DEVIL’S ROCK appear so selfless and good-natured, it makes you
want to root for them. You also wish they made a better movie, but there’s
enough potential on display to be hopeful for next time.
DVD/ Blu-ray Reviews
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