Given that New Zealand is such a small film market, at least in comparison with the wealth of content cinemas have available to them from abroad, the number of homegrown films which see a wide release is unfortunately small. It shouldn’t be a reflection on the quality of local film, just simply the reality of existing in a business so completely dominated by Hollywood. Which is why it’s so disappointing when one of the precious few slots allocated to NZ films is filled by something like The Devil’s Rock, a derivative, achingly slow horror masquerading as revisionist history. The concept is not essentially a bad one, yet it’s handled in such a clumsy fashion that it makes one despair for the state of our national cinema if this is among the best that our filmmakers can do.
Playing out on an understandably small scale, The Devil’s Rock runs with the oft speculated idea that during World War II, Nazis were researching and conducting experiments that dabbled in the occult, and in this case have summoned a demon to a small, uninhabited island in the English Channel. There’s potentially interesting ideas here, but director Paul Campion’s attempts to build the suspense necessary for a film of this type reduce the pacing to a crawl, and what should be creepy and unsettling ultimately ends up being painfully boring. The performances don’t do the film any favours either, with particularly disappointing work from Matthew Sunderland (Out of the Blue), whose baffling attempt at an accent leads to much confusion about who is who, and what his motivation is. Before descending completely into the cheap Exorcist knock-off that it threatens to become, The Devil’s Rock admittedly has an unexpected and welcome twist, although it’s best not to consider the implications of what the film is suggesting in any kind of historical sense. The most successful New Zealand films tend to stick to well defined and culturally specific stories, but sadly, in trying to branch out into genre filmmaking, The Devil’s Rock fails to deliver anything more than cheap, direct-to-video level mediocrity.