And you thought the first presidential debate was a living hell: Check out “The Devil All the Time” (R, 138 minutes, Netflix).
Directed by Antonio Campos (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), the Southern Gothic thriller depicts the world as a foul place, a minefield of brutality, sadism, manipulation, betrayal, religious extremism and insanity. There are pockets of goodness, too, but those with kind hearts become the most vulnerable to tragedy in one form or another.
Set in two rural towns — Coal Creek, Ohio, and Knockemstiff, West Virginia — from the late ‘40s into the early 1960s, the film has an epic, literary quality reminiscent of the Civil War-set “Cold Mountain.” The book is based on a novel by Donald Ray Pollock, whose narration in the film enhances that quality, drawing us deeper into the story and its characters.
Among the many characters are Willard (Bill Skargaard), a World War II vet scarred by his war experiences, and Charlotte (Haley Bennett), the good-hearted waitress who becomes his wife; Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough), serial killers who pick up hitchhikers, make them pose for sexually provocative photos with Sandy, then torture and murder them; Sandy’s corrupt lawman brother, Lee (Sebastian Stan); traveling preacher Roy (Harry Melling), who pours spiders over himself as a showing of faith and eventually tests that faith in a more more extreme, Old Testament manner; the Rev. Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), who uses his position as church leader to seduce teenage girls; and Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), an innocent who becomes one of Teagardin’s targets.
Arvin (Tom Holland), son of William and Charlotte, emerges as the central character here. Hardened by his difficult, tragic life, Arvin takes on the role of protector for Lenora and often responds to life’s dark forces with violence — it’s what he’s been taught. But can he survive this terrible world in which he exists?
There are times when the evil on display becomes overwhelming, and it feels like the film is wallowing in it. But Arvin’s struggle, in particular, ultimately gives this story more meaning, more weight. How do we contend with the evil in the world? How do we survive with our humanity intact?
You can see why the film drew such a strong cast: It’s full of challenging roles, and the actors are all up to the task. Pattinson, as the corrupt minister, has perhaps the most colorful part and gives the most memorable performance, but everyone is first-rate. ***½ (out of four)
More home viewing
During the past week or so I’ve also seen the following (I’ve included the service on which I watched the films; check for other options):
“The Take” (2016, R, 92 minutes, Netflix). From its rooftop chase scene to its maverick hero who ignores his bosses, “The Take” delivers one cliche after another. The result: a generic action film given a bit of a boost by the appeal of star Idris Elba, decent fight scenes and the occasional funny line. Elba plays a tough-guy agent investigating a bombing in Paris, and Richard Madden (best known as Robb Stark in “Game of Thrones”) plays a pickpocket wrongly accused of the crime. Their characters team up in typical buddy-film style to make the real bad guys pay. **
“Loving Couples” (1964, not rated, 118 minutes, TCM). Swedish actress Mai Zetterling made her feature-film directorial debut (which she co-wrote with her then-husband David Hughes) with this heavy, somber drama about three women about to give birth in a Stockholm clinic in 1915. With lines like “A dead baby’s always harder to get out,” “Men always let you down,” “There’s not much you can do alone except die” and “I wonder if God is with us,” it’s like the bleak films of Ingmar Bergman, but with a feminist slant. That’s not a bad thing: Bergman’s dramas are usually intelligent and provocative, and so is Zetterling’s film, which was shot by Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist and stars Bergman regulars Harriet Andersson and Gunnel Lindblom. Screened as part of TCM’s Women Make Film Series. ***½
When bad can be good (sort of)
“Black Sabbath” (1963, not rated, 92 minutes, Streampix). This is not to be confused with the heavy-metal band, though Ozzy and company reportedly took their name from this film. Boris Karloff introduces three horror tales — and stars in one of them — in this low-budget Italian film from director Mario Bava. The first involves a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux — real-life mother of Jean-Pierre Leaud) who steals from the dead and lives to regret it. The second concerns a woman (Michele Mercier) stalked by a man from the past who keeps calling her on the telephone. The third, and best, features Karloff as a patriarch who turns into a wurdalak (think vampire) and returns home to terrorize his family. Some of the acting is terrible, but Karloff, as always, is a blast, and overall the film is fun. Maybe worth a look for Halloween. ***
“Empire of the Ants” (1977, PG, 89 minutes, Streampix). Ants exposed to radioactive waste turn into giant monsters in this comically schlocky sci-fi flick, based on a story by H.G. Wells (!). Joan Collins heads the cast as a shrewish real-estate agent trying to convince a diverse group of potential suckers to buy swampland that will supposedly be developed into a community paradise known as Dreamland Shores. And now, folks, meet the ants! Good for yuks. **½
When bad is just bad
“C.C. & Company” (1970, R, 94 minutes, TCM). I couldn’t sleep, so I wound up sitting through this astonishingly amateurish movie. Joe Namath — then quarterback of the New York Jets — plays C.C. Ryder, a motorcycle-gang member who finds love with a fashion-magazine journalist played by Ann-Margret. With cringe-inducing acting and dialogue throughout, “C.C.” features some of the most obnoxious supporting characters — “kooky,” moronic biker folks with names like Pig (a woman) and Lizard — ever to appear on screen. Just awful. Bomb
Starting Oct. 5, I’m joining music producer Tony Raine, longtime manager of the Cape Cod Melody Tent, to host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 3 a.m. Mondays on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) or womr.org. You read that right: midnight to 3 a.m. (Remember, sleep is overrated.) Those who aren’t night owls will be able to find archived recordings of the shows at https://womr.org/schedule/broadcast-archive/.
As the show’s name implies, the emphasis will be on music — great music, if I say so myself (which I just did), including lots of deep cuts. Movies no doubt will come up from time to time, too. I hope you’ll join us.
Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic.
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