Wednesday, 16 September 2020

The Devil All the Time (Movie Review)

As we slowly enter into what is traditionally referred to as the film awards season, you can expect to see more dramatic movies with stellar performances coming out of the woodwork. But with 2020 being what it is, any sense of tradition should be approached with a measure of apprehension. Even awards like the Oscars have had to make adjustments to their eligibility period and requirements, to accommodate all the uncertainty surrounding movie releases at the moment.

So I was both happy and relieved when I found out The Devil All the Time would be making its debut on Netflix, which meant we wouldn't have to brave the great outdoors in order to see it. Not that our Lagos cinemas have managed to reopen, for whatever reason, two weeks after being given the go ahead to do so. But still, we've got to celebrate the little wins, and having a film of this caliber debut on Netflix is certainly one.

Set during the years following the second world war, the movie traces the lives of a number of people residing in a pair of interconnected backwood towns. First there is Willard (Bill SkarsgÄrd), who has just returned from the war. Raised by a religious family, he struggles to reconcile the teachings of the Bible with the horrors he has witnessed on the battlefield. He still manages to find love and a renewed sense of hope when he meets and falls in love with a waitress named Charlotte (Haley Bennett), who he marries and starts a family with.

Then we have Carl and Sandy Henderson (played by Jason Clarke and Riley Keough respectively), a couple with a disturbing fetish that involves picking up hitchhikers. Sandy is a part-time hooker, and her brother, Lee (Sebastian Stan), just happens to be the town sheriff, a corrupt police officer who is willing to do anything to secure his reelection. This includes taking bribes from the various criminal elements in their town, as well as covering up his sister's nefarious activities.

Finally we have Arvin (Tom Holland), Willard's son, who has lived through a childhood filled with pain and suffering. His old man's religious fanaticism has led him to question the very nature of good and evil. Still, he is willing to do anything to protect his family, especially his step sister, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). But after a new preacher named Preston (Robert Pattinson) moves into town to head the local parish, he finds himself pushed to the edge as all their lives begin to converge.

The Devil All the Time is not an easy watch. The movie shines a spotlight on the many evils it portrays, with a full blast cynicism nonetheless, all the while daring you to look away. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't intrigued throughout its over two hours runtime. This was mainly due to the talent being showcased by its ensemble cast, with each actor bringing his or her character to life with exceptional skill. The best part was watching how the lives of all those characters slowly started to intersect during the course of the movie, in wicked and wild ways.

The filmmaking prowess on display is also worthy of note. The film not only captures the time period in stunning detail, but the spirit of hardship of the times can almost be felt. It also juggles all its characters and their various subplots with surprising grace. I haven't read the book upon which it was based, but the fact that Tom Holland doesn't even make an appearance until nearly an hour into the film, despite receiving top billing, says a lot about the amount of material being covered.

It is all these things that make The Devil All the Time ultimately worth the watch, and one of the better Netflix releases we've gotten this year. So don't be surprised when you hear the names of one or two of its actors pop up when the conversation for awards consideration begins in earnest.

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