Jo Brennan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Feels like what would be made by the kind of person who watches Taxi Driver and comes from it thinking how rad it would be if someone like Travis existed in real life to “whip out the trash of society”.
There is something that separates movies that explore the inhumanity of chance at the face of the cosmos in its disregard for suffering and something that just dismisses its own characters. In movies like the filmography of the Coen brothers, there is an interest in observing this people in their externalized interiority and particularities. The look with curiosity and follow them to inspect their psychology through imagery and exerted actions, as brief as they might be.
There is a reason why someone like Jesus in The Big Lebowski is so memorable and is because, in spite of the duration, the Coen succeed at constructing people that have a human weight to them even at the face of the most absurd of circumstances because, at the end, they care about them. And they see everyone who appears on the screen as a body and a history worth portraying.
When someone dies in No Country for Old Men, the incidence might be ephemeral but the weight is felt. The drama raises from the fact of recognizing the loss, perpetuating a distance that is able to linger on the bodies. Therefore, we are taken to be aware of what just happened and how little does it matter for the universe at large in spite of the fact that these are people who had their time on earth which has been cut off abruptly.
The problem with The Devil all the Time does not lay on its exposed cruelty because that is as valid a path as any other to establish a communication with the audience about something. Its biggest failure comes from its lack of interest in when filming. Somehow, Campos has managed to make a narration that encompasses twenty years of US history, involving multiple characters that grow and develop their selves in relation to those conditions, and still make it feel inconsequential. Because he never seems even interested in enduring on the actions that might reveal who these characters are and what they feel throughout the progression of the story.
Atrocities occur but they do not mark a difference in the story. There is abuse, sexual assault, death and suicide, but there is no trauma or pain. We don’t see emotional consequences from these happenings, so they just turn to exist for the more immediate effect. To mask the film with importance because it is able to step into sensitive territory. Stepping into subjects without the compromise to film them with interest and empathy in how they affect people. Just occurring for low effectism. It is not only infantile in thinking that referencing these subjects will make it pass as mature, but just plain out hideous in its disregards for interiority.
As much as I oppose in how it fetishizes the pain of a decaying body for the sake of the effect, at least Phillips films in Joker with interest in Arthur. It contemplates his aspirations, conditions, restrictions and relations with an eye for detail. Taking into consideration that Arthur is a human being with a psychology worth inspecting. The Devil all the Time not only is exploitative in its depiction of suffering by flooding its duration with a multitude of tragedies that we aren’t given the time to absorb, but also just inhuman because it sees people not as beings with their own life, but as tools to further the narrative. Something especially true of its female characters, who as soon as they die after being tortured and abused, they are forgotten as if they never even were on the screen.
The closest we have to a character to observe is the one played by Tom Holland. But any connection that is tried to be done about him in relation to his father becomes meaningless when it becomes clear that Campos isn’t criticizing generational violence, but glorifying this character for doing the right thing. Buying into antiquated conceptions of masculinity and morality. Drawing such an evident line between the Bad People who we must exterminate because they are bad and have nothing more to them than that, and the Good People who are either victims of the Bad People or heroes who take action and do something good in a World Filled with Evil.
It is so ridiculous that something with these ideologies came out in the year of our lord 2020 considering the little consideration this has for post-modern reinspection. Taking history at face value rather than examining it with the new lens we have acquired. Its obsession with essentialist assertions of moral and theology to explain politics so enormous they steal the attention from any exploration of value about its many often fascinating themes presented to us.
Fuck this uninspired, deeply generic and deeply repulsive piece of shit.