The Devil’s Island is a 2011 New Zealand supernatural WWII horror, which starts off on a dim, cloudy evening on D-Day in 1944 where two Kiwi commandos, Captain Ben Grogan and Sergeant Joe Tane, are canoeing towards an island near Guernsey in the English Channel, with the aim of distracting Nazi attention. Unfortunately they land on the wrong beach and have to crawl through a potential minefield, poking the ground as they go, with one chatting away to the other about a nurse he’s going on a date with. Lucky for her they get through to the woods, but there’s something strange going on in a fortress on the cliffs, with terrified screams being cut off coming from somewhere within it.
‘There’s bad shit going on in here,’ one of them astutely points out. Indeed there is, with moans and screams coming from a tunnel they find, leading into the cliff. They go in to investigate the maze of dark, empty tunnels whilst a soundtrack of jarring chimes builds the tension. And then one of them comes across a scene straight out of Return to Castle Wolfenstein – horribly mutilated bodies, a radio broadcasting to thin air in German, blood spread all over the walls, and a book of Dark Arts. Other bodies show that one German soldier even decided to kill himself rather than face whatever horror may be stalking them.
One of the men is shot and killed and the other captured by a nonchalant… New Zealander? For some reason the German doesn’t have a German accent, but then takes time out after shovelling guts into a bucket for whatever is being kept upstairs to muse on where the captured Captain’s accent is from. Well, you should know, it’s identical to yours.
Captain Ben presumes that the ‘German’ killed all the other men to have the wailing woman held upstairs to himself, despite the fact he saw a man who shot himself in the head, the bodies look like they’ve been torn apart by animals, and the German’s perfectly clean despite apparently having just been on a murdering rampage. Anyway, the Captain gets loose, wounds the German who runs off into the tunnels, and goes to help the woman, who he finds chained up in a room of candles and pentagrams. Even more strangely, she’s identical to his dead wife.
The German decides to come back again and reveals that he’s part of a supernatural group set up by Hitler to search for occult weapons of war, and a Grimoire was found in an abandoned hut on the island, which they used to unleash a succubus demon. Unfortunately her fondness for murdering everybody was a bit much for them to handle and only the one German is left. He needs the Captain to help him send her back to hell, but can he be trusted any more than the demon?
Overall, I think this film works to a certain extent, and it does have a different feel to it than a lot of other horror films, but it just falls a bit short on the story. Reviews on IMDB range from ‘This kicks the crap out of Cabin in the Woods’ to ‘Worst one and a half hours ever’. Personally, I don’t think this particularly kicks the crap out of anything, and I’m very likely to rewatch Cabin in the Woods, whilst it’s unlikely I’ll ever watch this again. However, that’s not to say it’s a bad film – and the reviewer who thought it was the most terrible film they’d ever seen clearly hasn’t watched I Spit On Your Grave – the problem is there’s just not that much to it.
The location works really well for the first half or so of the film, with the tunnels used being shot in parts of a real fortress in Wellington, New Zealand, and this gives it a very bleak, claustrophobic feel, which is also a bit clinical, working well with the experimentation theme. It’s the same kind of scene that’ll be familiar to people who have played games like Wolfenstein which I mentioned earlier, or Half Life, and with all the moaning and screaming you expect some sort of mutant to come lurching out of the dark. Unfortunately, the second half doesn’t live up to the start, with a strong focus on the Captain’s feelings about missing his wife, maybe feeling guilty he couldn’t save her, feeling guilty he couldn’t save his friend, and having to fight this whilst the demon sashays around telling him he could have his wife back forever. Personally, I’d be disgusted by the idea of something that looked like my dead wife coming anywhere near me, especially when they’re stood in the middle of the carnage she’s caused, but the film focuses on this earnest struggle whilst the German thunders away in the background like a manic Presbyterian hell fire and brimstone vicar trying to banish the demon back to hell.
The acting’s alright; Craig Hall plays the Captain and is rumoured (according to IMDB) to be in the new Hobbit film, and he does a good job of it. It’s more the plot, which is quite limited, and the demon prosthetics and use of a ‘Grimoire’ that lead the film into Charmed territory – the front cover of the DVD doesn’t do it any favours in this respect. I watched this with my boyfriend, and he summed it up by saying that there was too much padding and too small a cast, and we don’t really get anywhere at the end of it. This sounds quite damning for a film which I think starts off so well, but I think this potential was lost, and having an actor playing a German who isn’t even going to try and do a German accent is a bit ridiculous, and this means sadly that The Devil’s Rock never lifts above the average.