Director Antonio Campos had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create an epic Southern Gothic drama rife with sin and sinners, violence and sinister characters. Whether he succeeds or not is left to the viewer, but to me it veered from great to confusing at times because fracturing its storyline really wasn’t necessary.
There’s a fashionable way to present films with dense storylines these days that bestows on the viewer a need to remember the names and traits of various characters as they pop from one era to the next. It’s fortunate that these characters are played by the likes of Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, Haley Bennett, Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, Mia Wasikowska, and Jason Clarke.
In the case of “The Devil All the Time,” we lean into the story to follow what happens to various people in rural West Virginia and Southern Ohio between the mid-1950s and 60s. But, as the tale unfolds, we begin to realize it is a story that could best have been told from the beginning straight through to the end.
The film, based on a novel by Donald Ray Pollock and adapted by Campos and his brother Paulo, is peopled by plenty of innocents but loads of very bad people. Which, in these trying times, is probably not surprising even if many of them are Bible-toting fundamentalist Christians. It begins in violence and violence follows everyone all the way down the line.
It starts with Willard Russell (Skarsgård), who left his hardscrabble rural life to fight in World War II. The war left him emotionally scarred, especially for having witnessed a brutal atrocity that has haunted his dreams ever since. So much so, he builds a makeshift altar in the woods near his home where he goes to pray with his son Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta, later his character will be played by Tom Holland as an adult). But, these are the prayers of a crazy man.
Voice-over narration fills in some of the details of how these characters are related and what they mean to the story, but sometimes just showing us is enough. Like the strange romance between Carl and Sally Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keogh), a couple who fell in love at first sight but who harbor some very trusted ways of showing their affection. Then, there’s Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), whose belief in the power of resurrection is shocking and even foretells of future tragedy.
Then, a new preacher comes to town. The Rev. Preston Teagardin (Pattinson) will also have a role to play in the ways of the town and all these damaged people.
If one is looking for allegory in this story, it’s probably there in spades. Just be prepared to remember who’s who as you go along.
“The Devil All the Time” is rated R for violence, bloody/disturbing images, sexual content, graphic nudity and language throughout. It is streaming now on Netflix.
Tempo grade: B+.
Also screening online from Taos Center for the Art’s Big Screen @ Home service
Ticket price $12.
After her husband's addiction to escorts leaves their family penniless, Josephine Mackerras’ first time film follows a Parisian woman who finds herself abandoned, desperate, and on the verge of losing her house.
With time running out, Alice Ferrand (Emilie Piponnier) is drawn into the world of high-end prostitution as a means of caring for herself and her child. Neither a fallen-woman melodrama nor an encomium to guilt-free sex work, this complicated moral tale explores questions of stigma as well as social and legal double standards.
This film will be available to view now through September 30 at the Taos Center for the Art’s Big Screen @ Home service. Ticket costs $12.
Ticket price $12.
Haunting omniscient narration tells the story of Laika, the Moscow-born stray dog who became the first living being sent into space and thus to certain death.
According to legend, Laika’s ghost has roamed the streets of Moscow ever since. Through a mix of on-the-ground footage filmed from a dog’s point of view and archival footage of the Soviet space program, the film accompanies two of Laika’s descendants – current-day Moscow strays – while examining their cosmic heritage.
This film will be available to view now through October 2 at the Taos Center for the Art’s Big Screen @ Home service. Ticket costs $12.
How does Big Screen TCA @ HOME work?
Go to tcataos.org/calendar/ and click on the movie you want to watch. Then, click on the WATCH MOVIE link. After that, it’s easy! You will “buy a ticket,” and be able to view the film. Watch on your computer, smartphone, tablet. Or, depending on the film, cast to your Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Roku. Instructions for how to watch on smart TVs are available at ticket purchase.
Why do movies cost a fee? These offerings are new releases and/or not widely available films. If you were going to see this on a big screen, a single entry at the Taos Community Auditorium costs between $7-$8.50. If there are 2 or more of you, it’s a deal! And even though TCA does not set the ticket price (the digital distributors do), it receives 50 percent of the ticket sales.
Why are time frames for viewing upon purchasing a ticket different? Virtual cinema platforms differ depending on the film’s distributor. The entire film industry is working fast to pivot during this time when social gatherings are prohibited. So, for now, there is no industry standard and different organizations have different ideas for how to “present” films digitally.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres in Taos and the Taos Community Auditorium remain closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Until they reopens we will focus on movie reviews available online and through the TCA’s Big Screen @ Home series.