Neo Noir with abundant bad people and a curiously light touch, notwithstanding a generous serving of murder.
The Devil All the Time. Netflix
Director: Antonio Campos (Simon Killer)
Screenplay: Campos, Paulo Campos, based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock
Cast: Robert Pattinson (Tenet), Tom Holland (Spiderman)
Runtime: 2h 18m
By: John DeSando
“Wherever God erects a house of prayer,
The Devil always builds a chapel there;
And 'twill be found, upon examination,
The latter has the largest congregation.” Daniel Defoe, The True Born Englishman
The devil is indeed omnipresent in Antonio Campos’ entertaining if macabre The Devil All the Time, an Appalachian noir with a slight bit of Coen brothers and much James Dickey. Not that there is even a smidge of humor; it’s just that Campos is deft at showing local West Virginia and Southern Ohio to be murderously folksy, a little like the devil in Prada allure.
A cast that seems to be consciously gleaned from franchises like Spiderman (Tom Holland as Arvin) and Twilight (Rob Pattinson as Preston Teagarden), to name a couple, adds to the lost innocence motif from rape and murder that defile the pristine backwoods of those beautiful states. It is as if the devil can’t be stopped until every malefactor experiences the vengeance of the Lord.
The instrument of retribution is mostly Arvin, whose father, Willard (Bill Skarsgard) carries terrifying images from war given to his son in the form of crucifixion obsession that is more hell bound than heaven. The scourge of war and its repentance is an undercurrent throughout this gothic thriller. While predatory preacher Teagarden is targeted for penance after his first seduction, itinerant married couple Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) feed off the photos they take of young men they murder for the sake of sadism.
Which is to say murder is the operative punisher, a pattern that contradicts the Bible thumping righteousness of the church service never seeming to be truly Christian anyway. No real goodness, except maybe the love of a baby or a grandma, resides in these dense woods, soothed by a fine selection of hillbilly and pop ballads punctuating perfectly the lamentable lack of moral compass.
This is a baroque and enjoyable thriller with a fair accumulation of deaths and the desperate connections of people who are driven by amorality and ignorance. Even urbanized moviegoers might demand there be more forgiveness and light.
But, hey, that’s film noir whether it’s Chicago, Illinois; Knockemstiff, Ohio; or Coal Creek, West Virginia.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com