Impressive cast salvages new Netflix thriller

Photo courtesy of Zurrenarh, Wikipedia

As a lover of experimental movies, nothing feels like a bigger waste of time than watching a mediocre film. A bad movie at least creates conversation about its quality, but a mediocre one has nothing to say, and in turn the audience has nothing to say about it either.

Sadly, the newest Netflix psychological thriller “The Devil All the Time” is one of those mediocre movies. Based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, the movie follows an ensemble of characters based in Ohio and West Virginia, asking questions of morality and religion. It mostly takes place in the ‘50s and ‘60s and contains a lot of gruesome murder.

Firstly, Pollock, the original novelist, narrates the whole movie and tells us how every character is feeling at any given second. While some of the narration is enjoyable and comedic, it mostly just takes away any responsibility from the actors and the narrative to properly convey the emotion of the scene. Literally the opposite of “show, don’t tell.”

The direction of Antonio Campos is striking and really evocative at times, but it’s nothing to write home about. While the narrative has its shining moments, most of it is convoluted and too grand for a film. It is very noticeable that it is a novel adaptation, due to the obvious chapter breaks and how undirected the story is through the whole runtime.

The cinematography has its beautiful moments, but, once again, the overblown narrative waters it down. All of the visuals suffer since the audience has no time to enjoy them while trying to piece together the different plots.

As with a lot of ensemble movies, the casting and acting are the biggest positive. The movie is led by Tom Holland, known for his “Spider-Man” fame, and even though he is the least impressive member of the ensemble, he still delivers something different from what we have learned to expect from him.

A few standouts are Harry Melling, best known as Dudley Dursley from the “Harry Potter” franchise, who brilliantly portrays a sickeningly delusional preacher and Bill Skarsgard, who is completely unrecognizable from his performance as Pennywise in the latest adaptation of “IT." He plays a war-troubled American father who needs to find his way back into faith. He performed with such conviction that it is easy to forget he is Swedish.

In fact, both of these actors create fully-fledged characters that feel real and do not resemble anything the two of them have done before. I wouldn’t be surprised if they started getting typecast as similar characters because of how impressive their performances were.

Still, none of them are the real acting highlight of the film. Robert Pattinson, who is unrecognizable as another villainous preacher, stole the show with only a few short scenes. Pattinson’s ability to successfully deliver so many diverse performances movie after movie, usually in small supporting roles, is incredibly impressive. He is shaping up to be the most influential actor of this generation, which nobody could have predicted during his “Twilight” days.

“The Devil All the Time” is just another forgettable thriller in all aspects, except in the fact that it will maybe be remembered as just another proving ground for actors who will go on to do bigger and better projects.

 

3/5 stars

lmarjano@ramapo.edu