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The Devil All the Time

Tom Holland is Arvin Russell, a young man with a pained past who was raised by his grandmother and uncle and lives with his stepsister Lenora. The film is about how Arvin sets out to protect his family and himself of some very creepy characters (bullies, serial killers, corrupt police/politicians, and the like) who live in the town of Knockemstiff. The all have tortured pasts and have a variety of mostly poor relationships with their Lord. I will start with the things that did not work very well. The narrator is the author of the novel from which the film was adapted, which made it feel more personal. However, the narration gets pretty excessive, and part of the result is that you don’t really get a lot of character depth. That is very unfortunate for a film like this that has a lot of characters whose lives intersect in strange ways. One review I read suggested that this might have made a better “limited series”, and I would tend to agree with that (although in different hands, this could have been a much more creative and edgy film). That aside, I was really entertained by the film. What carries it is the stellar acting by the ensemble crew. All of the performances were strong, especially by Holland, whose Arvin is trying to do right by his family, and Robert Pattinson, a very creepy preacher who takes over leadership of the local church (Pattinson is surely turning out to be a very talented and diverse actor). I found it very hard to turn off the TV as I got deeper and deeper into the story; there was something David Lynch-like in the collection of characters and the (rather limited) exploration of what goes on under the surface that captivated me. Thumbs up for a film that wasn’t perfect but shows that the right cast can really get a lot of mileage from an otherwise non-ideal script. (2020; 4 Stars)


About Gary Burkholder

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