Southern Gothic movies are tantalising affairs. Brooding men and women in the heart of America’s South with murder and madness make up some truly terrific films such as Killer Joe, Winter’s Bone, and The Night of the Hunter.
Now Netflix are having a stint at it with The Devil All The Time, based on a book by Donald Ray Pollock.
Directed by Antonio Campos, best known for the phenomenally taut Christine, comes this Southern noir about loose morals and violence. It revolves mainly around Arvin, a young boy who has had a tumultuous life, with his mother dying young and his father committing suicide. Moving in with his grandmother, Arvin is about to discover that his troubles aren’t over and there are more troubles that lay ahead for him.
From the instant the oppressive narration kicks in, this movie feels arbitrary and predictable. With sweaty brows, puffed out cheeks, and bloated guts, the movie slips through this seeming Southern underbelly without reason or rhyme. The movie constantly tells you how terrible people are, slithering through the insidious characters and their despicable acts. Yet they are lofty – unweighted by explanation despite the narration.
It is a hard slog, then, to get through two and a half hours of this guff. It’s a shame because Campos and Netflix have assembled a pretty decent cast. Tom Holland plays Arvin and whilst the performer is truly levelling up the ranks, he feels a bit mismatched against the rest of the cast here. There’s Jason Clarke, Riley Keogh, Sebastian Stan, Eliza Scanlon, Bill Skarsgaard, and Harry Melling. All make some sort of parting shot as these seedy characters. However, it is Robert Pattinson’s turn as the creepy, twisted teacher Preston who is a highlight. From his first entrance, embarrassing a member of his parish with a sermon, it is clear he is an abusive and corrupt man. That becomes more apparent over the film and Pattinson delights in performing him, especially with
Aimlessly, The Devil All The Time wanders through the Southern heart without adding much depth. Though with stunning cinematography and an impressive score, The Devil All The Time is nice to look at, the movie doesn’t do much with the source material. Despite the gore, it doesn’t feel repulsive. Despite the violence, it doesn’t feel provocative. Despite the cast, it doesn’t feel palpable. Just a bunch of pretty scenes threaded together by despair.
The Devil All The Time is available on Netflix