The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time ★★★

In spite of all the hype and promotion by Netflix and the star-packed cast, this Southern Gothic story is a mess - an interesting mess but a mess nonetheless. A tale of backwoods religiosity, duplicity and revenge, it's set in 1950s/1960s West Virginia and Ohio, it has multiple storylines that gradually converge as it jumps back and forth between generations.

What held my interest throughout was the talented cast and especially Tom Holland who plays a young teenager Arvin Russel, the center of the film. He's seconded by Robert Pattinson, who plays a sleazy preacher who clearly doesn't practice what he preaches. And there's a host of other well-known actors - including Bill Skarsgard, Haley Bennett, Riley Keough and Sebastian Stan - in smaller roles. The director Antonio Campos has captured the backwoods atmosphere quite well and it's well photographed.

The problems are multiple, though. Most of the characters are not fully developed so the motivations for their bad behavior are unclear or simplistic. Be prepared for tons of gratuitous violence throughout the film, primarily brutal gun violence with the gory aftermath presented at close range. In fact, by the end of the film most of the main characters have been killed off, often by another main character. There's a subplot about a weird serial killer couple that seems lifted from another film. The religious themes are all very broadly played and over-the-top, ranging from fanatical to hypocritical to delusional. There's an annoying voiceover narration by the author of the novel that the film's adapted from. And the by-now overdone use (as in so many contemporary films) of pop tunes , cars and radio/TV programs as markers of the time period.

In spite of all this, it's strangely watchable and I stayed with it for its lengthy 2 hours and 18 minutes runtime. But not again.

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