A psychothriller encompassing a stark collection of vignettes about violence and religion in the heart of the US country. It is vicious and cruel in ways that may turn you off. I found director Campos’ skill with ensemble and his willingness to dig into the darkest aspects of the human condition dramatically rewarding. Not a happy lightweight film, but a very good film. Many layers and much evil in many forms.
And I especially enjoyed that the author of the book narrated the film. His dry, sardonic observations bring a rich authenticity to this dark and unnerving story, set in a part of the country he clearly knows well. I wouldn’t want to live there all the time, but he makes it a fascinating place to visit – for a while.
In Knockemstiff, Ohio and its neighbouring backwoods, sinister characters — an unholy preacher, twisted couple, and crooked sheriff — converge around young Arvin Russell as he fights the evil forces that threaten him and his family. Spanning the time between World War II and the Vietnam war, the drama renders a seductive and horrific landscape that pits the just against the corrupted.
It is a story of multiple generations impacted by violence. It chronicles how faith and evil often intertwine through the years as men of the cloth commit heinous crimes and their allegedly loyal flock confuse issues of life and death. Shot on film it has a dirty, tactile sense about it, and will be several shades too grim and grotesque for some. This is dark, dark stuff – the story of various families impacted by murder and tragedy.
USA 2020, 138 min, rated R18
Directed by Antonio Campos
Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock
Starring Donald Ray Pollock (narrator), Bill Skarsgård, Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Banks Repeta, Haley Bennett & Riley Keough