Save a Prayer

The Devil All the Time

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

“Lord knows where a person who ain’t saved might end up.”

Indeed. The constant fight to overcome the worst in ourselves lies at the heart of The Devil All the Time, director Antonio Campos’s darkly riveting realization of Donald Ray Pollock’s best-selling novel.

Bookended by the close of World War II and the escalation in Vietnam, the film connects the fates of various characters living in the small rural towns of Southern Ohio and West Virginia.

Arvin (Tom Holland), the son of a disturbed WWII vet (Bill Skarsgård), fights to protect his sister (Eliza Scanlen) while he ponders his future. Husband and wife serial killers (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) look for hitchhikers to degrade, photograph and murder. A new small town preacher (Robert Pattinson) displays a special interest in the young girls of his congregation.

It’s a star studded affair—Mia Wasikowska, Haley Bennett and Sebastian Stan joining as well—but every actor blends into the woodsy atmosphere with a sense of unease that permeates the air. No stars here, all character actors in service of the film’s unsettling calling.

Pollock’s prose created a dizzyingly bleak landscape where Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy might meet to quietly ponder man’s inhumanity to man. Campos unlocks that world courtesy of Pollock himself, who narrates the film’s depravity with a backwoods folksiness that makes it all the more chilling.

As rays of light are constantly snuffed out by darkness, Campos (who also co-wrote the screenplay) uses Pollock’s voice and contrasting soundtrack song choices to create a perverse air of comfort.

Redemption is a slippery aim in and around Knockemstiff, Ohio, and grace is even harder to come by. With a heavier hand, this film would have been a savage beating or a backwoods horror of the most grotesque kind. Campos and his formidable ensemble deliver Pollock’s tale with enough understatement and integrity to cut deeply, unnerving your soul and leaving a well-earned scar.

Unfair and Unbalanced

Christine

by Hope Madden

There’s a moment in Christine – Antonio Campos’s clinical character study of ‘70s on-air reporter Christine Chubbuck – when a violently depressed Christine chastises her mother’s parenting. Had she been a better parent, maybe Christine would understand how the world worked.

There is such honest, bewildered frustration in that moment. With that single thought, a career-best Rebecca Hall exposes Chubbuck’s isolated, lonely, crippled soul.

We’re invited to join the stormy decline of Chubbuck’s life. An awkward, severe professional at odds with the era’s sensationalistic news trends, Chubbuck clashes with her Sarasota station’s news manager (Tracy Letts) and pines for its handsome anchor (Michael C. Hall).

Chubbuck’s professional frustrations and personal isolation come to a head simultaneously. Thanks to Hall’s meticulous performance, what we can see is that the emotionally brittle, deeply depressed Chubbuck hasn’t the resilience to contend with it.

Hall’s body language, her gait, her facial expressions and her speech amplify her character’s growing turmoil. It’s a creeping darkness that grows to be almost unbearable before bursting into an eye-of-the-storm calm that’s even eerier for its realism.

Though Craig Shilowich’s screenplay leans too heavily on frustrated spinsterisms as a handy excuse for Chubbuck’s behavior, and Campos’s direction intentionally keeps Christine at arm’s length, Hall’s harrowing turn guarantees that Christine Chubbuck makes an impression.

Campos’s disturbing 2012 horror Simon Killer remained intentionally distant as well – a provocative approach that suited the mystery of the titular sociopath. Here, though, it feels too chilly, almost heartless.

That seems inappropriate, because neither Chubbuck nor those she left behind were heartless. In fact, one of the great successes in Hall’s performance is her ability to personify Chubbuck’s amazingly off-putting, alienating behavior while simultaneously pointing out that most of us are only a few social misjudgments away from pariah status ourselves.

Inevitably, the film feels like a 110-minute prelude to Chubbuck’s infamous on-air suicide, and that’s where Campos and Shilowich’s weaknesses show. What was at the heart of Chubbuck’s final display – institutional sexism, unending loneliness, mental illness, professional integrity, irony?

The filmmakers showed a great deal while exploring very little, but thanks to a performance likely to be remembered come awards season, Rebecca Hall makes sure Chubbuck’s struggle resonates.

Verdict-3-5-Stars





Not So Simple Simon

Simon Killer

By George Wolf

If you’re in the market for a creepy guy, I suggest Brady Corbet.

Corbet, while probably a perfectly nice young man, is proving to be skilled at acting creepy, most notably in Melancholia, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and the American version of Funny Games.

He gets his meatiest role to date in Simon Killer, a film he also co-wrote. Corbet shines as the title character, a recent college graduate who takes off for Paris after a mysteriously nasty break-up.

Struggling to fit in, he strikes an uneasy relationship with a local prostitute, and soon hatches a plan to make them both big money by blackmailing her clients.

Director Antonio Campos sets the film up as a possible thriller, then slowly draws you into what becomes a character study of a manipulative sociopath. While some may  wonder what the point is, there is a hypnotic nature to the film that keeps you interested in Simon, and what he is capable of.

Corbet skillfully creates a character that’s easy to hate, yet impossible to ignore, while Campos, obviously influenced by director Gaspar Noe, utilizes pulsing rhythms and disorienting visuals to craft his dark world.

Pretentious in spots but ultimately fascinating, Simon Killer is a creepy keeper.

Verdict-3-5-Stars