Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 2020. Bronx Moving Co., Nine Stories Productions. Screenplay by Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos, based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock. Cinematography by Lol Crawley. Produced by Max Born, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster. Music by Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans. Production Design by Craig Lathrop. Costume Design by Emma Potter. Film Editing by Sofia Subercaseaux.
Southern gothic is slathered all over the screen in uncontrolled and erratic ways in this sloppy adaptation of the novel by Donald Ray Pollock. The spiderweb of characters centers around Tom Holland as a young man who loses both parents as a child, his mother to illness and his shell-shocked father (Bill Skarsgård) to suicidal religious fervour, raised by his grandmother (Kristin Griffith). Growing up along with him is another little girl who is herself an orphan due to gruesome circumstances, which when they reach maturity becomes a devoted relationship that sees Holland determined to protect his stepsister (now played by Eliza Scanlen), with whom he is in one way or another in love. He first starts fighting back against the bullies who have tortured him his whole life before contending with a hypocritically lecherous preacher (Robert Pattinson) and then taking on a Honeymoon Killers-style couple (Jason Clarke, Riley Keough) who have cut a swathe across the Bible belt murdering men and recording their crimes in photographs. Imagine if Fried Green Tomatoes was produced by Blumhouse and you have an idea of the haphazard melding of genres happening here, one that Pollock likely has the skill to navigate on the page but is done with little finesse on the screen. The nature of the characters and their tortured, oppressed lives insinuates that it’s a film worth taking seriously, it looks like Mudbound but it barely plays as more than an excuse for Southern-shaming and povery-porn exploitation, with a cast of mostly British and Australian actors in ill-fitting roles doing overripe accents (with Swedish Skarsgård the worst of them all). Besides Keogh, who seems to be making a career of giving exceptional performances in underwhelming films, everyone else embarrasses themselves (which in Pattinson’s case we didn’t think was possible), none more so than Holland, who gives the character no depth other than to always seem like he’s desperate to be taken seriously as something other than Spider-Man.