DJ_Keyser’s review published on Letterboxd:
One of the gravest disappointments of last year’s underwhelming batch of film. Perhaps my dismay is a by-product of the close proximity this watch had to my reading of Donald Ray Pollock’s novel—I found it almost impossible not to constantly compare notes twixt the two, and Campos’ adaptation is found seriously wanting.
Pollock’s novel is an astonishing work, striking in its unrelenting ugliness. He depicts his hometown Knockemstiff and its surrounds as a decaying hell on earth, populated by an array of putrid bloated ghouls that barely pass for men, and women that have withered away to almost skeletal remains. As unpleasant in appearance as his characters are, these grotesque skin-suits still belie the hideousness that permeates throughout the souls of his rogues gallery, like a cancer devouring cells and tissue until nought else remains. It’s really quite something.
Thus we come to my core issue with the film. There is absolutely zero sense of this utter repulsiveness conveyed by Campos—not in the script and not on the screen. I can’t understand the motivation to adapt a book most remarkable for its harrowing hopelessness and wanting to clean it up. It can be difficult to translate the power from the page, but not nearly impossible, and what’s the more, it’s as if an attempt wasn’t even made here. It seems Campos took issue with the depth of despair Pollock dove to, and wanted to give audiences something more palatable. The problem being that this strips away the very aspects that made the book so damn distinct.
Even more upsetting is that it has Pollock’s seal of approval. He contributes a completely unnecessary narration that only serves to highlight the deficiencies of the film in relation to his very own source material. Perhaps he has turned a corner, finding an opportunity to retrofit a lighter, more forgiving tone as some form of penance? More like the work of the devil, if you ask me.