MOVIE "The Devil All the Time"
WHERE Streaming on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The ensemble cast of a movie buff's dreams assembles for "The Devil All the Time," the new feature film from the director Antonio Campos ("Christine" — the Rebecca Hall one, not the Stephen King adaptation about the evil car).
You've got Mia Wasikowska, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan, Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke, Eliza Scanlen, Haley Bennett and Bill Skarsgård, all in an adaptation of a 2011 novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who supplies some folksy and pointless narration in this movie streaming on Netflix.
The picture chronicles death and personal destruction in the unfortunately named Knockemstiff, Ohio (this is a real town, believe it or not) and nearby Coal Creek, West Virginia. Largely focusing on two generations of two families in the wake of World War II, it tells the story of parents and children, preachers and serial killers, united in violence tinged with religious fervor.
MY SAY As you might have surmised after reading the preceding paragraph, this is one of the most relentlessly glum movies in recent memory, a dirge spanning just under 140 minutes.
To watch it is to suffer right along with its miserable characters, desperate for some ray of hope or sunshine to peek through the heavy portents of death.
There is certainly no law against making dark and depressing movies — some of the greatest motion pictures in the history of cinema are without a single moment of levity, just like "The Devil All the Time" — but whatever this one deigns to say about religious fanaticism becomes hopelessly mired in a muck of carefully blocked murders.
It begins with William Russell (Skarsgård, trading away his Pennywise makeup from the "It" movies to play another tortured figure) facing a gruesome situation during the war in the South Pacific and then coming home and marrying Charlotte (Bennett). She gives birth to Arvin, who will eventually grow from being played by Michael Banks Repeta as a boy to Holland as a young adult.
A parallel story concerns Helen Hatton (Mia Wasikowsa), a young woman with a tragic past who marries the preacher Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), who is first seen pouring spiders all over his face during a frenzied sermon. Their daughter is Lenora (Ever Eloise Landrum as a child and Scanlen as an adult).
A hideously awful series of events leads to Arvin and Lenora being raised in the same home. As adults, they, too, cannot escape this cycle of horrors.
Pattinson plays a preacher named Preston Teargardin, with a high-pitched, cartoonlike Southern accent and sporting a shirt with some silly looking frills. Clarke and Keough are serial killers, hanging out along the fringe, picking up young men and killing them, as if the movie needed to fill some quota of murders.
It's all handsomely composed, with Campos and the cinematographer Lol Crawley creating a sense of backwoods terror by emphasizing austere church doorways, long shadows, and empty, expansive forests. A soundtrack tinged with period country standards such as "The Three Bells" by The Browns adds to the palpable atmosphere.
But anytime Campos, who co-wrote the adaptation with his brother Paulo Campos, makes some progress in the direction of cogent and meaningful storytelling, he backslides into an affinity for heavily stylized violence without the context necessary for it to really work.
BOTTOM LINE The Devil All the Time" touches on some interesting topics but doesn't know what to make of them. So it is instead relentlessly grim and violent, without a shred of entertainment value.