Movie Guru: Fans of horror will appreciate “The Devil All the Time,” a Netflix Southern Gothic
As a genre, Southern Gothic is what happens when horror and drama have a baby and leave it to be raised by an old Southern woman with deep, dark secrets.
Of course, different examples of Southern Gothic take more after one parent than the other. When it comes to Netflix’s new movie, “The Devil All the Time,” it’s definitely horror that’s left a stronger impression. The movie is bound and determined to creep you out and will manage it on several occasions, though it also has an odd sentimental streak that clashes with the horror in unexpected ways. The resulting combination is a deeply unsettling experience that’s both hard to like at times and will leave you thinking about it longer than you probably wanted to.
The movie starts with a veteran coming home from WWII, where he quickly runs into characters both tragic and terrifying. It’s a few more years before he becomes one of those characters, and we switch attention to his son as he grows up in a world full of murder, violence, secrets, lies, and views on religion that are both intense and strange. The entire thing is narrated by an older male that’s never identified, with a folksy, warm approach that stands in stark contrast to a lot of the scenes that happen between his narration.
If you’re looking for grand inter-generational drama, this probably isn’t the movie for you. The story takes a relatively brief dip into the lives of quite a few people, mostly focusing on how they intersect than any deeper analysis of their individual stories. When you do see the impact of time, and the lives of parents on the children they leave behind, it’s mostly to the credit of the stellar cast. There are moments where the movie unexpectedly tries to humanize various characters, but as they’re generally the worst ones those moments aren’t exactly appreciated.
But if you want to be unsettled, “The Devil All the Time” is exactly what you’re looking for. Pretty much every scene is filled with a creeping, underlying sense of wrongness that infects the audience from almost the first moment. You know something bad is going to happen in pretty much every scene, you just don’t know what’s going to happen or exactly how bad it’s going to be. You’re never sure who you can trust, if you can trust anyone at all, and even the best people are capable of doing very bad things.
There are also a few moments of flat-out bloody horror to watch for. I’m pretty jaded by R ratings by this point in my career, and I can usually watch even really violent scenes without flinching. But there are a few moments in “The Devil All the Time,” particularly an early war flashback, that even I found genuinely disturbing. It’s not a knock to the movie — that was the exact intention of each of those scenes — but please take it seriously.
The cast is fantastic, full of people who are really good at being really bad. Sebastian Stan shows he’s just as talented at playing the villain as he is the good guy, and Robert Pattinson is flat-out chilling. On a less creepy note, Eliza Scanlen and Tom Holland bring both depth and tragedy to adopted siblings caught in a dark, dangerous world.
When it comes to Southern Gothic, that’s the only kind of world there is.
“The Devil All the Time”
Rated R for violence, bloody/disturbing images, sexual content, graphic nudity and language throughout
Screenplay by Antonio Campos and Paulo Campos
Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock
Directed by Antonio Campos
Starring Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Haley Bennett, Bill Skarsgård, Sebastian Stan, Harry Melling, Riley Keough, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Jason Clarke and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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