This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Austin Hale’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Show Don’t Tell is not Gospel!
The Devil all the Time is a brand new Netflix film directed by Antonio Campos and has a plethora of top talent on screen. Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgard are just a few of the super star names attached to this film.
Now I will be honest, I have not read the book, so I am judging this movie based on what I saw on the screen (which is really how you should judge every movie). This film is like a puzzle that has all the right pieces but is put together completely incorrectly, so badly in fact that the end result looks nothing like the box!
This analogy perfectly encapsulates my biggest problem with this movie, it’s structure. Although I do not claim to be a film expert, there are decisions made in this movie that I feel if I was in the editing room, I would have re structured this movie differently.
**SPOILERS FROM HERE ON**
First, I am usually a fan of linear storytelling as I find a non linear approach to be overused and sometimes detrimental to necessary character development *cough* every Nolan film *cough*. But in this movie, I think a non linear approach would have been better for Tom Holland’s character development. Starting with him rather than his father and having him remember these traumatic events would have been provided some development that is lacking when you don’t even meet your lead character until 45 minutes into this movie.
Second, there are so many unnecessary plot lines in this film. The crazy couple that picks up hitchhikers ends up being an unfulfilling plot line because they just get killed so really what was their point. I knew how the plot line was going to connect to the main story as soon as it was introduced but I thought at least the woman in the couple would be important, but no, she questions her relationship with her husband and then just dies so why even have that plot line.
The police officers subplot is even more unnecessary! It’s just to have him arrive at the end to add tension to Tom Holland’s finale. If a character’s arch is simply to have things “come together or connect” then it’s lazy writing.
Third, the use of a narrator is lazily used as he merely tells us how the character is feeling when we should be experiencing the characters feelings via the actor on screen.
Lastly, this ties in with my title of this piece, is this movies religious following of the “show don’t tell rule.” I believe this rule can be used to hammer a theme or point in a movie when just talking about it would be underwhelming, but this film is simply trying to shock and “be dark.” I want to compare the scene with the dog to a movie I’ve recently discussed on my podcast, Se7en (link to podcast here Directed By).
Fincher knows exactly when to show and when to tell; this is exemplified in Sloth vs. Lust (spoilers for Se7en). Sloth is shown and it is brutal, but it develops our villain and simply describing this event would not have been as impactful; lust on the other hand is not shown but described. We never see the horrific act but we see a victim describe it. I believe showing this wouldn’t been unsettling and gross to a point that it just becomes murder porn (like saw or Texas chainsaw massacre).
In Devil all the time, the dog is shot off screen and the horrible thing he does to it is behind the camera, at first. Then a police officer arrives at the scene and shows the audience the dog nailed to a cross. I believe this is simply to shock an audience member rather than hammer a point because the point was already made when we saw him do the act off screen. I also believe the killing of the dog is simply to be “dark and gritty” because I think if he (the father) killed his wife it would be more in line with his character as he kills the tortured man in Japan at the beginning of the movie. All of this to say, this movie prides itself on being dark and depressing without giving us characters to connect with and care about. It just feels gross to watch.
Overall, Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson are the best parts of this movie; but when the structure of the movie is broken to me, I see it as sub par.
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