As movie antagonists go, Nazi’s are done to death. Even the much celebrated villains of the insidious ‘Empire’ (Star Wars) were just Nazis in space, with added super powers albeit. However the general representation of Nazi’s in film is still an interesting phenomenon – so horrifying were the real things that their on screen presence has become an immediate way of signifying ‘these are the baddies, they are the evil ones’. So The Devil’s Rock comes as a surprise: an occult Nazi horror that toys with the audience’s preconceptions of swastika bearing foes in cinema.
For its genre, this is a rare angle – the likes of Inglorious Basterds, Downfall and Saving Private Ryan have all played with similar ideas in the exploitation, drama and epic genres respectively. Humanising Nazis, and Nazi atrocities, is a tricky business. However this film has an ace in the hole and it lays in a clever distraction technique. While it may be concerned with the allegiances and desires of Nazi and allied officers alike, it throws in a ‘truer evil’ to trump that of man’s.
…and, oh yeah, that evil is a blood hungry she-demon from Hell.
Ok, it may be a sillier movie than we previously indicated. The story follows a pair of Kiwi grunts as they attempt to sabotage an anti-air gun in Guernsey – a minor excursion designed to distract the Germans from the now infamous D-Day landings (so far, so historically accurate).
Hearing strange noises emitting from a nearby silo, the two of them decide to investigate. One is swiftly taken out of the picture, leaving the other (Craig Hall) to deal with a cryptically motivated Nazi colonel (Out of the Blue’s Matthew Sunderland), piles of rotting viscera and the aforementioned spawn of Satan (Gina Varela).
It’s a tight set-up that is lent a decidedly claustrophobic atmosphere by its, largely, one room setting. Raising the tension is a shaky truce endeavoured by both men in order to defeat the demon that threatens their safety. Happily, the beast feels convincingly dangerous thanks to a seductive performance by Varela and some impressive creature effects rendered by the Weta Workshop FX studio (Avatar, The Lord of the Rings).
But it is Sunderland, as Col Klaus Meyer, that really stands out. His performance is not incredible but he does an exemplary job of convincing you that there is more to his character than what might appear on the surface. He is a Nazi, first and foremost, but shows a great deal of fear and remorse for summoning Varela’s vicious succubus. While both Hall’s allied officer and the audience know he is not to be entirely trusted, there is always a tentative feeling that he may be looking for genuine repentance.
Sunderland, along with director Paul Campion, keeps you guessing right until the end. It’s just a damn shame that suddenly, and unfortunately, they lose their nerve and all moral ambiguity becomes, once again, black and white. Ho hum, it was fun while it lasted.