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The Devil All The Time

Year: 2020
Studio: Netflix
Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Antonio Campos/Paolo Campos
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Hayley Bennet, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough, Tom Holland, Eliza Scanlen, Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan

Even while watching this film I wondered what the appeal was to such big names who lined up to star in it. It's well enough made and interesting enough to watch, but what reason such a southern gothic thriller has to exist in the early 2020s remains a mystery. Maybe it was just Ted Sarandos sending a message to the industry that he'll throw money at anything he goddamn feels like.

It's a multi-generational potboiler about American backwoods-dwellers after World War II. Willard (Bill Skarsgård) witnesses a Japanese atrocity in the Solomon Islands and carries it home as he returns to his small-town Ohio life.

On the way there he meets cute diner waitress Charlotte (Haley Bennett), goes home, returns to her to ask her to marry him and they find happiness in their rural house with their young son Arvin.

At the same time, a pious young woman, Helen (Mia Wasikowska) falls in love with an intense young preacher, Roy (Harry Melling). When he apparently loses his mind thanks to his religious fervour, he becomes convinced he can resurrect the dead, taking Helen into the woods and stabbing her in the neck with a screwdriver before discovering to his horror that the Lord is going to do no such thing.

Around the same time, Charlotte is struck down with cancer. Willard becomes convinced he can pray the cancer away, even going as far as killing the family dog (and Arvin's best friend) as a sacrifice to spare her. Charlotte dies anyway, Willard slits his own throat in his grief and Arvin, like Helen and Roy's daughter Lenora, is sent to live with their grandmother Emma.

Years later, in the form of Tom Holland and Eliza Scanlen, Arvin and Lenora are very close and protective of each other, but Arvin can't stop her falling under the spell of the charismatic but sexually predatory new preacher (Robert Pattinson), vowing revenge.

And all the while this stuff is going on, Carl (Jason Clarke) and his wife Sandy (Riley Keough) are driving around the local counties indulging their sick whims. We've already seen them as Sandy worked in the same diner as Charlotte – we see Carl hit on her the same time Willard and Charlotte are falling in love.

But we have no idea that, in the coming years, what they'll do for kicks is pick up hitchhikers, take them on picnics where nobody can see them, have Sandy seduce them while Carl takes pictures of it all and then murder them.

After Arvin executes his plan to get vengeance on the preacher who stole his sister away from him, his story collides with Carl and Sandy's and everything comes to a head.

There doesn't seem to be any theme apart from how unenlightened and superstitious Americans in the Midwest were in the post-war period. The script is fine and the look of the film feels authentic, but while it's enough to hold your interest for the (long) running time – it meanders and wanders here and there like the grassy, country roads of the locales – you'll still wonder why.

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