“This movie boasts of a trailer that is much more riveting that the movie itself” 

Over the years, I have developed a particular penchant for crime thrillers and was lucky to have watched some brilliant works (‘Mindhunter’, ‘Sharp Objects’) in the genre. ‘The Devil All The Time’ has all the ingredients for a great thriller – homicides, perverts, serial killers, sheriffs, religious maniacs and gullible women, but somehow fails to excite or even engage. ‘The Devil All the Time’ is Netflix’s film adaption of the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, directed by Antonio Campos, and starring a promising ensemble cast including Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Eliza Scanlen, Robert Pattinson, with Riley Keough, Jason Clark and Sebastian Stan. It also has Mia Wasikowska and Halley Bennett in guest appearances.

The story deals with the intertwined lives of two generations of people in two small towns in Ohio. All of the characters – a war veteran(Skarsgard), an estranged couple, young orphans(Holland and Scanlen), a pastor(Pattinson) and a sheriff have sins that they are guilty of. How they fight their ‘devil all the time’ forms the rest of the story. Their parallel narratives converge with disastrous results and a few shocking discoveries.

If you are expecting a riveting story with surprising twists and turns, then you will be disappointed. Because the movie failed to handle its intriguing set pieces in a cohesive, satisfying manner. What we are left with are a few parallel storylines that neither work on their own nor tie together neatly. For the most part, we are just following the happenings of a small town where people do objectionable things ( to put it mildly). This leads to a few moments of shock but nothing substantial to thrill. Even the creepy eeriness wears off pretty quickly because it’s overdone so much in the first 25 minutes ( spoiler: crucifixes).

The voice-over narration in the third person doesn’t help either. It doesn’t allow for us to look into the characters or their motivations, without which their sinful acts fall flat and merely serve some momentary shock Also the golden cinematic rule of “show, don’t tell” felt compromised. The southern setting and characters in many ways reminded me of HBO’s ‘Sharp Objects’ ( also starring Scanlen), but a much duller and deflated version. 

Ironically, a recurring theme in this sinful story is religion and how different characters perceive it. We have the faithful, the atheists, the manipulators, the fanatics and the frauds, all in one story, showing us that all faith is not good faith. Some of the outrageous things done and justified in the name of religion – like attempting to cure one’s wife of cancer through animal sacrifice provide for some unintended comic relief. But without narrative coherence the weight of this heavy theme falls flat. 

Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the film is its star cast. Billy Skarsgard is riveting as the religious, war veteran, maniac. It was very nostalgic to see Dudley Dursley (Harry Melling) from ‘Harry Potter’ films portray a psychopathic religious fanatic. The story revives a little when Holland, Scanlen and Pattinson walk in. Holland who’s mostly known for a bright, cheery Peter Parker is surprisingly convincing as a disturbed teen. Elizabeth Scanlen is, as always a delight when it comes to understated performances(‘Little Women, ‘Sharp Objects’). And Pattinson has developed a particular niche where he walks into a story midway, like the Dauphin in ‘King’ and steals the show. Although his accent has a weird nasal twang and is slightly exaggerated, he pulls off this absolutely detestable character with style. The showdown between Holland and Pattinson is memorable and easily the best scene in the movie. 

So, watch this film if you enjoy good, genuine performances. Watch it if you enjoy irony and dark humour. Watch it if you have already run through the many superior works in this genre. But do not watch it for the story, because, this movie boasts of a trailer that is much more riveting than the movie itself. 

The Cinemawala Rating – 2/5 

 

About The Author-

Anushree Periasami is an electrical engineer from IIT Madras, currently working as a financial analyst. But her pet project has always been writing. An avid reader right from school, her favourite exercise was essay writing on novels and stories and the critical analyses of plots, characters, themes, etc. That interest continued right through college and to work as well. She was the Regional Editor for the internal quarterly magazine of her company – a compilation of interviews, technology articles and fun puzzles. The only things she loves as much as writing is watching movies and shows, especially masterpieces that aren’t advertised much and largely ignored. As Bojack Horseman put it, “But isn’t art, less what people put into it, but more what people get out of it ?” 

Also elle peut parler francais !

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