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THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME: A Brutally Honest Film for 2020

It’s no secret that the world has been filled with good and evil people throughout history. Some may go relatively unnoticed; others may become figures larger than life. While certain moments in time may feel completely separated from one another, The Devil All The Time makes clear that actions and characters can cross state lines, families, and even generations. Antonio Campos’ latest film recently released on Netflix, and while it’s been gathering some polarizing opinions, it feels like a film that is brutally honest and unequivocally raw. It feels safe to say that this type of candor doesn’t come around frequently in film, so while a bit jarring and even enigmatic at times, it’s disturbingly refreshing as a whole.

The film begins in such a way where the viewer is thrown directly into the middle of lives that seem interconnected, but not entirely. Campos simply places faith into the viewer to keep up, and doesn’t seem to worry about the finer moments until necessary. This actually works in the favor of the film, for we don’t necessarily remember every face we see on the street or passing by in a car in reality. It’s simply living moment to moment, and only in necessity can that recollection sometimes come forward. So, as the film begins barreling towards an uncertain conclusion, the three storylines being followed start coming together in a way that feels as if memories are colliding against one another. Many claim that your life flashes before your eyes while you’re passing, and this film truly feels like this possible experience, but on a larger scale. Rather than just witnessing the sole experiences of one, we are treated to the experiences of many. Because while this film certainly has a central character, in a brilliant Tom Holland, it is very much an ensemble piece that comes together quite poetically.

With regards to the ensemble, this film truly has an eclectic cast of characters. All give fantastic performances, with Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson being absolutely perfect. However, the role of Lenora is absolutely marvelous. Portrayed by Eliza Scanlen, Lenora is truly one of the most tragic characters to be shown on screen this year. The film is full of gut-wrenching moments without question, but Lenora is surely a character that will linger in your mind as the credits begin to roll. While the cast does cover quite the range of personalities, their cores are all interchangeable. All of them, in some way, are lost. Spirituality is a main crux of this film, and as these characters grapple with faith, or sometimes abandon it completely, Campos certainly doesn’t pull any punches with how damning it can be to some unfortunate souls. If any film deserves an “aptly titled” award this year, it is unquestionably this one. For the entire 138-minute runtime, it seems like no peace can be had by anybody. Whether in church or school, at work or on the road, the hardships and cruelty of life rain down on this cast without break, and evil truly feels present at all times.

However, there are moments that the film feels a bit misguided. Some may come away feeling a bit unclear on the stance the story takes with regards to religion, but it seems intentional. The narrator, an omnipresent character who is voiced by the author of the novel the film is based on, is the one who presents the details. And while he succeeds in remaining simply an observer, there are moments that seem to be a sly nod to the realities displayed, and he lets his opinions be heard. Those moments certainly feel like they lead the viewer to the outlook the film takes, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel blatant and still allows discussion.

Overall, The Devil All The Time feels like a grand film, although it having detractors makes sense. It’s a very pessimistic film, with a grim outlook on life, and not much going for it in the way of cheer. In tumultuous times such as these, a film like this certainly isn’t an escape from the realities being faced, but as stated, brutal honesty like this in a film feels crucial. For a film like this to remain so true to itself for the entire runtime should be applauded. And in the final moments, when everything begins coming together, there are certainly some interpretations that can be had, but whether positive or negative is entirely up to you. Or perhaps up to the unseen narrator. Either way, what can happen, will happen, and good and evil will continue to be in an ongoing battle for everything stuck in between.

The Devil All The Time is currently streaming on Netflix.

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