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The Devil All The Time review – a test of faith in a Southern Gothic tradition | reviews, news & interviews

The Devil All The Time review – a test of faith in a Southern Gothic tradition

The Devil All The Time review – a test of faith in a Southern Gothic tradition

Anthony’s Campos’ blood-drenched period tale based on Donald Ray Pollak’s novel

Tom Holland suffering the sins of the father in Anthony Campos' latest feature

Theres no denying the Faulknerian ambition to the construction of Anthony Camposlatest feature Devil All the Time. Its a brooding, blood-soaked Semi-Southern Gothic drama spanning two generations through a plot that wrestles with the nature of good and evil like Jacob at Penuel.

The film takes place in the wake of World War II and up to the outbreak of war in Vietnam, a time when the media would become weaponised as never before in the US. The pernicious nature of media was central to Camposprevious works, Simon Killer (2012) and Christine (2016), but in The Devil All the Time, he chooses to focus on the way a different method of social control operates – religion. Rich with a veritable gallery of monsters, in this film the biggest monster is the past where the sins of the father haunt the lives of sons, and the Devil is always at your door. 

Based on the 2011 novel by Donald Ray Pollak, the story begins with Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard), as a returning vet from WWII plagued by the memory of a flayed, fly-ridden marine crucified on a tree and looking like Beelzebub. To his horror the man is still alive, until he puts him out of his agony.Robert Pattinson as monstrous preacher Preston TeagardinBack in his ancestral home of Knockemstiff, Ohio (where Pollak hails from in real life) Willard tries to lay his his demons to rest. He finds a wholesome wife, Charlotte (Hayley Bennet), who gives birth to their child Arvin (played later in the film by Tom Holland). Willard sets about instilling a righteous sense of faith in his son, building a prayer tree out back and insisting Arvin always find time to pray, as well as always finishing his fights – hands are as often clenched as fists as they are held in prayer in this tale.

Willards happiness proves fleeting when his wife is taken from him by cancer. He thinks a sacrifice might return her to him, and in a drunken rampage he shoots the family dog, mounting it on the prayer tree in a warped act of Abrahamic faith. When his sacrifice proves fruitless his faith is shattered, and he slits his wrists. And so the past repeats itself. Like the image of the marine, the sight of a mangled corpse and a blood-soaked tree is reimagined with new horrors and imprinted on Arvins mind. Camposfilm is full of such horrific mirrored moments. 

While the film deals in a peculiar brand of Christian faith specific to America, theres also a pagan quality to Camposfilm, which is populated with oddballs, creeps, and sadists. Theres Harry Mellings deranged Roy Laferfty, who believes he can raise the dead after stabbing them in the neck with a screwdriver, (echoing Willards own twisted hope of returning his late wife). Robert Pattinsons Preston Teagardin is a chilling monster who comes dressed in a ruffled shirt and baby blue suit, and acts as the perfect counterpoint to Arvins innocence. Then theres Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough), a deadly duo who stalk the local highways looking for modelsfor their monstrous art, standing in marked contrast to the wholesome image of Willard and Charlotte. These deviant characters all orbit Arvin, who is the epicentre of the story and its only hope. 

Frustratingly, Camposlatest feature feels too sprawling and lacks cohesion. The plot meanders off to follow secondary characters for a time before returning to Arvins narrative, by which time your concentration has wandered. Creating such a structure requires fine balance, and The Devil All The Time doesnt have it. Matters are made worse by the films narration, provided by Pollak, whose rich southern drawl might suit the tone of the film, but is also incredibly distracting, pulling you out of the drama.

Despite these troubling narrative weaknesses, the performances are still remarkable and Campos has a gift for using the horrific to make a potent point. The Devil All the Time shows a side of America which is far from forgotten and remains as pertinent as ever today - where blind faith in power will only lead you down dark paths. 



The biggest monster is the past, where the sins of the father haunt the lives of sons, and the Devil is always at your door


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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