7/10 Every once in a while, I’ll watch a film like this that is rather challenging to review. Sure, it is easy to point out the strengths, of which this film has plenty. But verbally communicating the weakness this film has is the tricky part. Let’s start at the easy part and work our way forward. This film has one of the best casts assembled for all of 2020. The last time I saw a cast this stacked made me think of “Avengers: Endgame”, which ironically shares two stars respectively; the friendly neighborhood web-slinger himself Tom Holland and the infamously brutish Sebastian Stan of Winter Soldier fame. While Holland is the true standout here and giving the best performance he has given thus far in his career, every actor is firing on all cylinders. A couple actors have limited screen time but they make the most of each second on screen. The performances are only elevated by the incredible score from composer Saunder Jurriaans and the soundtrack is perfectly in tune with the backwoods setting of the 1950s/1960s. Every production value from the sets to the costumes are expertly created. The cinematography and editing go hand in hand in delivering some chilling imagery that captures your attention and won’t let go. Despite the film running roughly two hours and 20 minutes, the film is well paced with an emphatic slow burn paired with well-placed bursts of violence. This is a very graphic, adult film and one whose rating should be heeded if you are on the squeamish side. The film is well shot and looks pristine with its dark, foresty shades of green and brown to counter act the ugliness of its characters. Which brings me back to my difficult task in describing the problems with the film. Almost every character is a truly evil or disgusting individual committing heinous acts from the film’s beginning to the very end. Based off of the book of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock (who does a phenomenal job narrating the film), if I didn’t know any better I would assume Pollock has some disdain for religious people, seeing as how the worst characters in the film are pastors or religious people with raging mental health issues. Though I enjoyed how the film clearly depicts how inherent violence gets passed down from generation to generation, we are so constantly assaulted with unlikeable, evil characters doing such awful things that you begin to question what the point even is of the story if not just to show the director’s ability to portray gratuitous violence on screen. When the film ends, we come full circle and get a nice, if too neatly wrapped up, conclusion but with no moral lesson or clear points being made. We get enough revenge porn that would get Quentin Tarantino excited but the film still lacks meaning and purpose. It is a film I feel like I should have liked more due to all its many strong qualities but the story’s conclusion left me feeling empty, like an atheist praying to God and hearing nothing but silence in return. A good movie due to the phenomenal acting, terrific score/soundtrack, strong pacing, amazing cinematography and wonderful production design but ultimately comes up short of greatness due to a dark, violent plot that leaves you yearning for more substance. Being a devil all of the time might have benefitted from an angel here or there.
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