The Devil All the Time Sept 26, 2020 14:48:18 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Sept 26, 2020 14:48:18 GMT -5
The Devil All the Time (2020)
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Directed by: Antonio Campos
The Devil All the Time is a rare Midwestern gothic with a Faulkner-esque approach; a comprehensive look at a nothing town and the tragic souls whom populate it. Some might mistake its overarching critiques of religion as anti-faith when that couldn't be more false. This is a film that serves as a sobering reminder that those who claim to have a connection with God and morality are often so far gone from those things. It's also one of those lengthy films that feels every bit as long as it is (roughly two hours and ten minutes) despite its engrossing qualities.
The film is directed by Antonio Campos (who co-wrote it with his brother Paulo); the same man responsible for the criminally underseen biopic Christine. Christine was a dark, moody drama that revolved around the career of news anchor Christine Chubbuck, who horrifyingly took her life on-air. It proved Campos was an effective craftsman both in tone and in efficiently covering the various angles of a complex story. Here, the brothers Campos challenge themselves to profile a handful of denizens that make up the shoddy, unincorporated town of Knockemstiff, Ohio. Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock (who narrates the film), it's a lofty task that mostly hits the mark in being a comprehensive, intertwining anthology.
Our story stretches from Knockemstiff to Coal River, West Virginia where we are initially introduced to Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), who returns home from the war in the 1950s. Willard starts a family with his wife Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and son Arvin (Tom Holland), but he's plagued by PTSD after witnessing a fellow soldier crucified in one of many grotesque scenes. After Charlotte succumbs to cancer, Willard takes his own life, leaving Arvin an orphan at a tender age.
Arvin's life becomes one crippling tragedy after another. His father didn't leave him with many virtues other than the old eye-for-an-eye principle. "There's a lot of no good sons-of-bitches in this world," Willard tells Arvin after assaulting two men in their property. But the tragedies of Knockemstiff do not solely engulf Arvin. Throughout the film, we meet other strange souls. There's Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), a quack minister so consumed by the idea that God gave him the power to raise the dead that he murders his wife (Mia Wasikowska) in cold blood in effort to test his theory. In addition, Sandy and Carl Henderson (Riley Keough and Jason Clarke) are a pair of married serial killers who lure young men into taking lewd photos with Sandy. Later on, Roy runs into the couple; the outcome leaves his daughter Lenora (Eliza Scanlen, Little Women) an orphan.
When Arvin goes to live with his grandmother, Lenora becomes his adopted step-sister. Lenora is as innocent as they come, god-fearing and ultimately forgiving of what she believes her father might've done to her mother. Arvin can't fathom how she rationalizes forgiveness for a man who ultimately put her in an impossible position. He remains fiercely protective over her, especially when she starts paying visits to a sleazy, opportunistic preacher (Robert Pattinson boasting an accent sure to be divisive).
Cloaking this misery-laden Gothic tale are themes of evil and religion, sometimes so intertwined it's hard to find the fine line between the two. Perhaps right-wing pundits are still so busy misunderstanding the controversial Cuties and fueling that outrage machine that they haven't directed their anger towards The Devil All the Time, claiming it's a product of the godless Hollywood elite. Nonetheless, that is patently false. The Devil All the Time is not anti-religion in any capacity. It's stark reminder that those who often preach their faith and old themselves on a pedestal for others to emulate are slicksters in themselves, motivated by lust, greed, and ego like the rest of us. Even the town sheriff (Sebastian Stan) is no better as he spends his shifts womanizing and bribing while simultaneously attempting to secure reelection.
Shot on film — a wise decision for a film so rustic — the film's cinematography is gorgeous despite its gloom. Lol Crawley sharply captures the barren wasteland that is this hopeless ghost-town, where people are born in poverty and are likely to remain in it for indefinite generations. Scenes at nightfall could be rendered indiscernible, but Crawley keeps things visible and appropriately disquieting.
The Devil All the Time's greatest shortcoming is the brothers Campos' decision to make each scene a pivotal event as opposed to allowing moments for character development and conversation to breathe. It's as if each subsequent scene must continue to fast-track the growing sense of dread by further entangling its characters in a web of plot. I would've preferred an approach akin to Spike Lee's Rosewood where we as audiences are given the feeling as if we're roaming around the town and allowed to spend time with the characters in more subdued moments. For example, one of the best scenes comes between Holland and Scanlen (who sadly don't have a lot of time to build the natural chemistry they have) when they're expressing dissent over one another's ability to practice faith and forgiveness. That said, The Devil All the Time is never boring and doesn't get crushed by the weight of its own ambition. Fittingly, it's an ugly film for an ugly year.
NOTE: The Devil All the Time is now available to watch on Netflix.
NOTE II: Check out my review of The Devil All the Time on my web-show Sleepless with Steve. Catch the show Wednesday evenings at 8pm CST at twitch.tv/sleeplesswithsteve!
Starring: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Sebastian Stan, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough, Eliza Scanlen, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, Mia Wasikowska, and Haley Bennett. Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock. Directed by: Antonio Campos.