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Review: The Devil's Rock (2011)

Its set-up could not be any simpler. It’s the day before D-Day in The Devil’s Rock (2011) and two New Zealand commandos arrive on Forau Island on a mission to draw Germany’s attention away from the impending invasion of Normandy. They find a bunker full of carnage and a demon summoned by a Nazi colonel as part of Hitler’s interest in the occult.

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I call it a “set-up” because it’s not really a “plot.” The plot is even skimpier, relying on the relationships among Captain Ben Grogan (Craig Hall), Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland) and the Demon (Gina Varela) for any actual character or story development. Who can trust whom? What double-crosses will happen to ensure survival? There will be backstabbing, both literal and figurative.

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I’m not saying a simple story and thin plot is a bad thing, especially in the case of The Devil’s Rock. While these characteristics do cause the movie to drag at times, especially at the beginning, they also create a horrific atmosphere and sense of intense dread. Paul Campion helmed the production. He’s an occasional director (6 credits) and frequent visual effects artist (40 credits.) This explains the style over substance.

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While firmly rooted in history, The Devil’s Rock doesn’t feel authentic in the way war movies usually do. There’s something about the dress and gear of Grogan and his companion, Sergeant Joe Tane (Karlos Drinkwater), particularly their black knit caps. The bunker also looks modern; however, I did a little research and found a picture of the actual tower that inspired the one in the film. They look the same.

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I suppose it’s more the cinematography and subject matter that contributes to its modern feel. Plot points aside, the setting could be today just as well as 75 years ago. Certainly the amount of gore is modern. Meyer literally shovels the guts of slain soldiers into buckets to feed the demon. It’s mostly “passive” gore, though, rather than “active;” we see the results of the demon’s hunger more than the actions.

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Speaking of the demon, the makeup up is simple, but effective. I believe the effects are all practical; there are no showy CG flourishes. (That could really have removed the movie from its time period.) The demon does its dirty work in the shadows, but if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times, what you don’t see is usually scarier than what you do see.

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In fact, the conclusion takes place in a lit space with the demon clearly seen conversing with Grogan and Meyer, and it’s not as effective as everything that’s happened before this point. For me, any real suspense or horror happens inside the circle the two men create to protect them from the demon, humans sometimes being the monsters, you know.

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The specific timing of the story is critical. It takes place not just during World War II, but on the eve of D-Day. On its surface, the final shot of The Devil’s Rock indicates we’ve just completed a race against time, but could also mean that the actions of the characters were for naught. Intimate battles may be insignificant when compared to the forces of war.


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