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Friday, September 11, 2020

[Review] Netflix’s ‘The Devil All the Time’ Grapples with Corrupt Faith in Ensemble Southern Gothic Thriller

Author Donald Ray Pollock‘s works have been referred to as “Hillbilly Gothic” or “Southern Ohio Gothic.” His debut novel, The Devil All the Time, earned accolades and praise for its blood-soaked noir and sprawling story spanning families in the rural underbellies of Southern Ohio and West Virginia. The precise type of epic tale that begged for adaptation. Netflix’s latest adapts Pollock’s novel with the exact level of scope and care it deserves, offering an expansive ensemble Southern Gothic thriller oozing with unrelenting dread from start to finish.

Spanning between World War II and the Vietnam war, The Devil All the Time begins with the introduction to Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), a man left disturbed and deeply religious by his tour of duty. Willard’s struggle to find peace and raise a family serves as the entry point for both this world and its long cast of characters, all of which converge around his son, Arvin (Tom Holland). Arvin is fiercely devoted to those he loves most, and that includes protecting them at any cost in a backwoods town full of corruption and evil at every turn. That consists of a crooked sheriff (Sebastian Stan), an unholy preacher (Robert Pattinson), and serial killing couple Carl and Sandy Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough). That’s only the tip of the iceberg.

There’s a lot of ground to cover in this near two-and-a-half-hour runtime, and director Antonio Campos hits the gas straightaway, presenting a series of scenes shifted back and forth in time over a roughly seven-year period. It’s a little jarring at first but quickly settles into a rhythm. It helps that the story is narrated by author Pollock himself, his southern drawl befitting not just of the setting but the languid pace. That’s not a flaw. Every bit of this film is riveting, as there seems to be no end to its depravity.

In a script he co-wrote with Paulo Campos, Campos deftly shifts focus between the characters, very few of them wholesome or morally pure. Religion, especially in small towns like Knockemstiff, Ohio, is a significant foundation of the community, yet it’s often a corruptive power. For some, religion grants delusions of grandeur that leads to murder. For others, it offers a false sense of security in hardship, or an authority to inflict abuse. For Arvin, religion has mostly dealt him a life of tragedy. This theme works as the undercurrent of a series of increasingly disturbing acts of violence.

Because this film is so densely packed, some of the character arcs do feel abridged. We barely see Carl and Sandy meet-cute, and the next time we see them, they’ve already married and began their murder spree. It teases out their method of luring unsuspecting hitchhikers to their doom, and sometimes graphically shows what happens to them. Mostly, though, Campos prompts the viewer to fill in the gaps through brief moments, dialogue, and photographs. There’s more to these characters than the film has time to spend. Luckily, there’s enough destructive evil in this world to compensate, and Campos never loses sight of Arvin, the film’s most morally conflicted protagonist. He’s the one the offers the most rooting interest, and as such, provides much of the suspense. This cruel world chews up and spits out the kind-hearted, making it not such a safe bet that Arvin will survive it.

The Devil All the Time makes for one grim foray into a ruthless Southern Gothic setting. It is a hard-boiled, blood-soaked story full of unsettled mood and unrelenting dread, with an impressive cast that sells every second of it. Even when the script short changes them, only due to the source material’s magnitude, it’s an ambitious effort that mesmerizes. That the runtime zips by and leaves you hanging for more, despite how final things conclude, speaks volumes of this dark, often depressing thriller.

The Devil All the Time releases on Netflix on September 16, 2020.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3631424/review-netflixs-the-devil-all-the-time-grapples-corrupt-faith-ensemble-southern-gothic-thriller/

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