In Knockemstiff, Ohio and the surrounding woods, sinister characters – an unfaithful priest (Robert Pattinson), a perverted couple (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) and a corrupt sheriff (Sebastian Stan) – revolve around young Arvin Russell (Tom Holland). while he faces evil forces that threaten him and his family. The Devil, directed by Antonio Campos, always spans the period between World War II and the Vietnam War and paints a seductive and frightening picture of the eternal struggle between the honest and the corrupt. This nuanced and suspenseful story, starring Bill Skarsgård, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, Haley Bennett and Pokey LaFarge, is an adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s award-winning novel.
Considering the pile of stars on the poster, the explicit violence and the story in which good and evil face bloody, the movie The Devil All the Time has every chance to attract the attention of Romanians starting Wednesday, when it launches on the Netflix platform, just days after a limited release in American theaters. Cinemagia saw the film and can tell you below what captivated us to this gloomy story that takes place in the middle of the last century in a poor area of Ohio.
It is enough to read the name of the city where the action takes place, Knockemstiff (in very free translation, Lightning in the Headache), to realize that what follows may not fuel your hope in humanity. We ignore for a moment the twisted chronology of the film to say that it all starts when the young soldier Willard (Bill Skarsgård) returns from World War II and overcomes his terrible experiences on the front by an almost obsessive inclination towards religion. In an area plagued by terrible poverty, Willard seems to be on the right track when he marries Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and the couple has little Arvin. Years later we meet Arvin again as a teenager, played by a Tom Holland ready to forget the role of Peter Parker and his gentle exuberance in Marvel productions.
Our problem with this film is the stubbornness with which he uses people’s wickedness to surround his positive heroes with more than sinister challenges. This ubiquity of evil would work much better in a fantastic series, and it is enough to look at Bill Skarsgård’s filmography for a moment to discover Castle Rock, the series inspired by the writings of Stephen King, where the Swedish actor plays a character more than mysterious. What works in such a series can hardly be convincing in a so-called realistic film, where evil can hardly wait to emerge, with various faces and petty actions.
What The Devil All the Time manages to do is point out that it is not the devil who is to blame for the horrors that pervade the screen, but the people. And sometimes not even people, but rather their poverty and ignorance, ready to make them seek solace in a misunderstood religion, dominated by “eye for an eye” mentalities and quarrels starting from nothing. Violence and abuse of power get so many faces in this film directed by Antonio Campos, and the moments of explicit violence accumulate so quickly that they almost overwhelm (if not even reject) the viewer. It doesn’t help that many of these characters are played by well-known actors such as Robert Pattinson and Sebastian Stan, Jason Clarke or Riley Keough.
It’s easy to watch The Devil All the Time just for your adrenaline rush and brutal brawls. Maybe everything happens far away, both in space and time, but is it so hard to imagine the corrupt policeman played by Sebastian Stan cutting and hanging under a different look in who knows what village in Romania? Or the priest of Robert Pattinson, professor in who knows what seminar where young people who should cultivate their vocation of the priesthood suddenly discover that their superior has other vocations? Or Harry Melling’s preacher to be so far from Romania, the country where a young woman with mental problems was exorcised until she died, a subject explored by Cristian Mungiu’s film After the Hills?
The story’s obsession with evil may be unlikely, but once you start thinking about it, you find that it can happen anywhere and to anyone, keeping the proportions. That saved Campos’ film from a categorical rejection, at least from our point of view, especially when you think that once you “play”, no less than 140 minutes await you (too many, if you ask us on us) of excesses of all kinds.