This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Logan Kenny’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
TW: suicide, sexual assault, violence
when you look through the positive reviews of this film, you see a commonality. it’s bleak, it’s nihilistic, it’s sadistic and grim and throws you head first into a world of cruel disrespect and abominable violence. it’s a disgusting motion picture that revels in the grim realities of our collective capacity for violence. all of these things are used to describe this work as a positive, that it’s committed to being bleak, that it is good because it succeeds at unparalleled darkness and that is why it has merit. there is no interrogation from the film of why it is this cruel, there is no purpose, it just is this way. why is cruelty the key to a film’s artistic accomplishment in this case?
The Devil All The Time is hateful, but not in a way that adds any insight into the capacity of men’s hatred, the tragic inevitability of violence or anything like that. it simply doesn’t care about human existence or the boundaries that it exists within, showing a bloody crucifixion, two graphic suicides, one of which lingers in the brief moment of “wanting to live” before the explicit image of death is showcased in close up, and multiple instances of sexual assault that linger closely on the bodies and the faces of the female victims. it watches Mia Wasikowska’s blood pour out from her throat, as she struggles to contain herself, and it stares there for an eon as she dies in front of the camera. what is the reason for it, what does it add?
there is no character to any of these beings. from the start of the film, they are introduced as mere archetypes of Southern Gothic tropes. the crazy preachers, the traumatised younger girls, the grief stricken violent sons, all of these hollow figures being put through agonising trauma as the overwhelming presence of an Old Testament god looms over them. no one matters here. there isn’t any care to any of these people, there is no atmosphere to this town or culture in its surroundings, it is just a wasteland of malcontent. there is nothing genuine in these locations, nothing remotely convincing as a way to immerse yourself in the world. no sense of culture or humanity, no little grace notes of humanity before tragedy strikes again, no exceptional moments of cinematic transcendence in the midst of tragedy. just another death, another shot of a slit wrist or a tortured woman, more fucking pain that gets ignored and moved past immediately afterwards.
Eliza Scanlen’s character gets knocked up by the preacher who rapes her in a car, before committing suicide in the barn rather than live with the pain of having an abortion and once she’s dead, she’s left behind. there is a brief scene of her body being taken down, but after that, she is worthless. she is used as a tool for revenge which doesn’t matter either, the gratuitous cruel triggering things that her character was subjected to didn’t result in any catharsis, any grief or process or even a character arc. it existed only to exploit, but exploit in the laziest possible way.
that’s the worst part of this film. it’s a collection of Southern Gothic tropes without the skill of Faulkner, the atmosphere of McCarthy or the compassion of Williams. it handles violence in a way that adds nothing, there is no grief or reckoning with this brutality like you’d find in a Rob Zombie film, there is no lingering spectres or horror, there’s nothing. it is profoundly empty, meaningless, textureless with a group of rich actors doing shockingly abysmal work with characters that have nothing but names. it is profoundly miserable to sit through, in a way that doesn’t add any perspective to your life, in a way that has no artistic merit because there is no ideas beyond it. it is a film that wants to shock you but only succeeds in making you wish you were doing anything else. I wasn’t triggered by this, I’ve seen too many horrible portrayals of suicide by vapid edgelord directors to get horrified. but it didn’t make the disgust any easier to manage. it was awful from the second it started, and impressed me by getting worse with every scene. don’t watch this, it’s not provocative, it’s just meaningless.