The Devil All The Time and Enola Holmes are perfect examples of high-quality, immediately disposable Netflix Originals.
Both have promising “indie” directors (Antonio Campos’ last feature was 2016’s Rebecca; Harry Bradbeer broke out directing Fleabag), at least a couple of stars (Devil’s ensemble includes the current Spider-Man and future Batman; Enola Holmes lead is Stranger Things’ Eleven with Superman himself in support as older brother Sherlock), and maybe some literary pedigree (both are based on best-selling novels.)
The Devil All The Time: (3 / 5)
Enola Holmes: (4 / 5)
The Devil All The Time is a slick American Gothic epic with interweaving narratives playing out over three decades. The film initially follows Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård bringing the same sense of haunted absence he did to Pennywise in IT), a traumatised veteran returning home to Coal Creek, West Virginia, from the war in the Pacific. Little does he know that stopping by a diner in Meade, Ohio, will change his life forever.
Life is hard in Knockemstiff, the small rural community into which Willard and new wife Charlotte (Haley Bennett) will settle, and, as Willard tells his young son Arvin, “There’s a lot of no good sons of bitches out there”.
These sons of bitches indeed take numerous forms: Riley Keough and Jason Clarke as a serial-killer couple with a lethal cuckold-voyeurism fetish; Sebastian Stan’s corrupt, doughy Sheriff; Harry Melling’s bequiffed, bug-eyed fire-and-brimstone preacher, a touch of Walton Goggins in his portrayal. Preachers are, on the whole, a bad lot in Devil – man, it seems, is never more dangerous than when he thinks he’s getting right with God.
Holland brings fervour to the role of the older Arvin, fighting to protect his step-sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen, feverish innocence as in Little Women). Pattinson, meanwhile, scene steals, though without vanity, as the smug, frilly-shirted Preston Teagardin, another venal, malign influence. Mia Wasikowska, however, is wasted in a bit part as Lenora’s ill-fated mother, a step back from her lead role in last year’s revisionist Judy & Punch.
Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ melancholy, reflective score and Lol Crawley’s moody, painterly cinematography, informed by the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, imbue Knockemstiff with low-key griminess and desperation. Campos’ camera takes in these environs without losing sight of the characters at the heart of them. Guided by author Donald Ray Pollock’s hardboiled narration, which to my mind recalls Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination of Jesse James…, the film is bleak but never despairing.
The woods may be full of bodies, but there are acts of kindness, too; however rare. And maybe even some sort of hope
It’s certainly a contrast to the airy, vibrancy of Enola Holmes, a winningly self-aware YA romp that feels it was scripted by Phoebe Waller Bridge. Based on the book series by Nancy Springer, it was, in fact, adapted by Jack Thorne, who also recently adapted Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which features another formerly feral child (in that case, Logan’s Dafne Keen) turned precocious British wunderkind.
When her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter), disappears, it’s left to Enola to solve the mystery. Luckily, her mother has left her well-equipped for just such an eventuality: Enola’s skillset ranges from anagrams to jujitsu by way of indoor tennis. Unfortunately, her older brothers, Sherlock (Henry Cavill, in perhaps the detective’s most broad-shouldered, dashing incarnation to date) and Mycroft (a seething Sam Claflin, on his most reactionary form since The Riot Club), who, for different reasons, aren’t greatly keen on their sister going off on an adventure.
Which she does of course, one that sees her entangled with another runaway, tousle-haired toff the Marquess of Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge), and a sinister pursuer (Burn Gorman, who actually played Bill Sikes in Oliver! back in 2009). It’s Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes done as Sunday teatime drama, with just a touch of the “Abominable Bride” episode of Sherlock. Victorian illustrations flow pop-up style through scenes – those extolling Sherlock’s virtues are done Sydney Paget-style – and Scrabble letters help dramatise the wordplay.
Brown’s winning performance, knowing and exasperated, is neatly complimented by Daniel Pemberton’s buoyant, inventive score and Giles’ Nuttgens’ vibrant cinematography. Wilde’s script also has something to say about gender equality and how freedom can come in many forms: the freedom offered by a more expansive education or the money to choose your own clothes, whether at an expensive seamstress or slipping a gardener £5 for a disguise on the fly.
There’s also Fiona Shaw as a strict but not unkindly governess, brought on by Mycroft to “break” his wilful ward; Adeel Akhtar as Inspector Lestrade, lukewarm on the trail and easily coopted; and Frances de la Tour perfectly cast as The Dowager.
The Devil All The Time and Enola Holmes: one serviceable, one more-than-serviceable Netflix Original, both shortly to be swallowed up by its vast inventory, popping to the surface only “Because you watched” or in relation to some new release. The future of cinema, eh. But you know what, it’ll do till the apocalypse gets here.