The Devil All The Time is Bafflingly Bad (a Review)

In the Babysitter post (it’s good- you should read it) I mentioned the impossible balance Netflix must walk with its two heads. The content head, having material enough people will want to watch, but has to be diverse but unified; along the production head that must find stories they think good enough to fit on their platform while also confirming to their brand. Well that gets more complicated when you add in big name star. The Babysitter had character actors at best, but when you try to make an A-List, star driven story while also meeting the above criteria that makes it even more impossible to come out with anything amazing. Then double it when it comes to an adaption of a novel.

Set after World War II the story follows an ensamble cast along the border of West Virginia and Ohio. It principally follows Tom Holland’s Arvin, an orphan forced to move back with his grandma, uncle, and step sister of a sort (it’s complicated). Life gets hard when their town preacher leaves and a new preacher played by Robert Pattinson comes to town. Meanwhile a Bonny and Clyde-esqu duo kill hitchhikers all covered for by the female half of the duo having a brother for Sheirff.

This movie is bad. Quite bad in fact, but it’s not all bad. The production values and purposeful throwback style to older dramas give it a distinct feel. Match that with a mostly good cast and a couple of strong, but not movie saving, scenes, it can work at times. Unfortunately it misses far, far, far (I could keep going) often.

Out of the two movie killing plays this film takes the worst is the pacing. For around 75% or more of the film nothing is happening. I thinks characters are making changes that will inform them later, but it honestly drags all of that out. To give an example, it takes 40+ minutes just to get Tom Holland on screen. Once he arrives the movie must then juggle every other character that he gets lost. To make it worse the editing is attortious. Strange cuts. Weird non-flashback flashbacks. A non-linear story that doesn’t realize it is non-linear, but also wants to try and act like it is. All of it makes for an ungodly slow movie. Despite being just over two hours, the time drags by worse the being carted on mud by a horse. A defense of these choices would go back to the films themes. I would agree, but there is a catch. What the movie thinks it is doing, is showing a family or group of people having to deal with the throws of religion and high powers thrust upon them. Unfortunately it handles these themes and the ways they are gotten across with all the ease of dragging a person through the woods with a horse (I keep going to that metaphor but that’s not a movie reference).

One of the hot debates in cinema is the voice over/narration. If done well no one would even notice. It is not inherently bad, just how it’s used. This movie uses voice over and makes me feel dumb in the process. The film begins in voice over and that is a fair enough choice. A staple in many films. Give us a setting and tone, but then it keeps going. It goes so long that it informs us the viewers of character motivations that don’t seem present in the film. The ultimate in telling, not showing. The voice over will explain what events or perceived higher power drives someone. To make it worse when it doesn’t do that in scenes it feels off. It holds your hand so much that when given any freedom it feels like your let loose in a field surrounded by horses carting dead bodies. I mean to say your lost and confused. On top of making you feel dumb because it has to tell you everything that happens, it also slows the pacing down and show the movie doesn’t trust the story it’s telling. It seeks to need to fill the cracks it’s own narrative can’t fill. It’s sloppy.

The film was based on a novel by Donald Ray Pollock, as well as voiced by him. I’m sure the book is okay, even pretty good, but the strict adherence to the books prose, scene transitions, and narrative style make for a choppy, hand holding experience. Books can flow into different scenes within a paragraph or two. Movies can, but need more care. If done wrong you end up with a film like this where scenes stop, start, and will cut with no warning or rhyme. Similarly, books can say what characters are thinking straight out. Doesn’t make it better than showing through action and interaction, but is a more natural thing to read than to have explained to you while pictures on screen convey the exact same themes and ideas. It’s just clunky and ruins anything the book could have done well by wasting it on accuracy to the source material.

As baffling, confusing, and kinda pretty this movie is to look at, the most confounding thing is how it makes Tom Holland look like a better, more brutal (cause apparently I’ve been reading the wrong Batman comics/watching the wrong Batman TV shows all my life and people think he’s just a brutalizer… yay…) Batman than the already cast and currently in production zone with Robert Pattinson. Doesn’t mean he’s bad, but Tom Holland really does shine in the film and it is a shame he is stuck with such limp, dead-horse drawn-body material.

I’m cleaning house and selling some media. If you would like to buy comics, manga, or cards I owned and used follow this link: say you’re a reader and I’ll be happy to discount any item for you!

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