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Netflix’s ‘The Devil All the Time’ is a silly film that thinks it’s a serious one

Tom Holland tries and fails to get dirtied up in 'The Devil All the Time.'
Tom Holland tries and fails to get dirtied up in ‘The Devil All the Time.’
Image: Glen Wilson / Netflix
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The Devil All the Time may sound like a flowery title, but it turns out to be a fairly straightforward description of what this movie is: 138 minutes of devilish deeds, mostly but not exclusively murder. It’s a harrowing journey into the darkness of man — or it would be, if it weren’t so ludicrous.

The very premise is the kind that suggests big, weighty ideas about the nature of evil, generational trauma, toxic masculinity, and the senselessness of violence. The saga unfolds across two different states over three different decades, bookended on either end by war. In the 1940s, three separate couples meet and fall in love. By the 1950s, two of those couples have children. Well into the 1960s, these families and others continue to find their fates tangled together, by design or coincidence (or, as some of the more religious characters would insist, divine providence). 

It’s hard to muster up any feeling stronger than “aw, sweetie” about these unconvincing visions of moral depravity.

The parents have passed their pathologies and shortcomings along to their children, who find themselves retracing the same cycles their parents did. Occasionally these wretched souls luck into moments of kindness and grace, but more often they’re beaten down by cruelty and violence. By the end, the story has encompassed about a dozen major characters, and racked up an even higher body count. Add in a humid Southern Gothic vibe, a starry cast (Tom Holland! Robert Pattinson!) and a well-regarded director (Antonio Campos, of Afterschool and Christine), and The Devil All the Time would seem to have the makings of a heavy-duty knockout, or at least a juicy potboiler. 

It never gets there. The talented cast flounders with the sketchy motivations and dull dialogue they’re given — though Pattinson, at least, turns his portion of the mess into something entertainingly over-the-top. Others seem to be rehashing roles they’ve done before (Jason Clarke as a violent sleaze), sleepwalking through a nothing part (Mia Wasikowska as a pious young wife), or straining to reconcile an obvious miscasting (Holland as the closest thing this wannabe-gritty thriller has to a protagonist, a basically good young man with a violent streak).

Not even the unnamed omniscient narrator proves much help in fleshing out these narratives, because he spends his stuff explaining stuff like “the boys at school liked to pick on Leonora” when we are already watching, with our own eyes, the boys at school pick on Leonora (Eliza Scanlen). The voiceover is a clear tipoff that The Devil All the Time is based on a novel, but it’s a mystery why the script by Antonio Campos and Paolo Campos felt compelled to retain passages that are neither poetic nor illuminating. 

Robert Pattinson in 'The Devil All the Time': Well, at least someone's having a good time.

Robert Pattinson in ‘The Devil All the Time’: Well, at least someone’s having a good time.

Image: Glen Wilson / Netflix

The many misfortunes that befall these characters, meanwhile, are foreshadowed too heavily to be surprising or exciting. You know the beatific young mother is a goner as soon as she asks her husband to bring her back some sugar, or that the other young mother who promises her baby she’ll be right back will not, in fact, be right back. Every character gets a raw deal in the movie, but the female ones seem to get it especially rough. At least the men tend to kill or be killed for explicable reasons. The women are sacrificed simply to give the men something to do.

Not that all this haphazard fridging actually yields anything interesting. The Devil All the Time obviously intends to be grimy and twisted and shocking. The violence is graphic and so is the nudity. There’s a scene of a jaded soldier stumbling across a man crucified by enemy soldiers and left for dead, and another of a guy slaughtering a dog in the most gruesome manner imaginable. The characters sink to levels of rage and sadism that should be unthinkable, and endure experiences horrific enough to drive them away from the arms of God. 

And yet, it’s hard to muster up any feeling stronger than “aw, sweetie” about these unconvincing visions of moral depravity. The more self-important this film becomes, the sillier it gets, especially because The Devil All the Time manages to trip over every overplayed trope on its way to saying not much of anything. There’s only so much you can take of an actor loudly cursing at the skies before it tips over from tragic to hilarious, particularly when he’s barely convincing as his paper-thin character to begin with.

Despite all the ugliness on display, the movie comes across as safe, sanitized, and oddly naive in its understanding of the darkness of the human soul: Most women are saints, most men are sinners, neither is worth investigating enough to see what makes them tick, everyone bad gets what’s coming. If there’s a trick being pulled in The Devil All the Time, it’s the one orchestrated by the marketing team to convince viewers that this is a film worth taking seriously.

The Devil All the Time is now streaming on Netflix.

Source
Mashable.Com

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