To deliver director Antonio Campos’ “The Devil All the Time,” based on Donald Ray Pollock’s acclaimed 2011 novel set against a rural backdrop during the period between World War II and the Vietnam War, cinematographer Lol Crawley aimed to show a town out of step with the times.
“We had this idea that the rural environment of the film was slower to catch up [with modern advancements] and should feel like an Andrew Wyeth painting,” Crawley says.
The film, which premieres Sept. 16 on Netflix, revolves around Arvin (Tom Holland), a young man who runs a gantlet of corrupt clergy (first Harry Melling’s Reverend Roy, then Robert Pattinson’s Pastor Teagardin), husband-and-wife serial killers (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) and a crooked sheriff (Sebastian Stan) in the tiny town of Knockemstiff, Ohio.
Crawley and Campos infused the scene that introduces the church — a location that serves as a focal point of the story — with a dark and moody feel filled with earth tones, one that matches the period aesthetic. “We wanted to be faithful to the natural light and how it fell into the church during the day,” Crawley says. But the DP was also aware of how the light would shift as they were shooting, so he enhanced the environment by hanging lights in the ceiling.
The production shot on film — with a digital transfer to accommodate Netflix’s 4K format. The medium allowed Crawley to underexpose shots. “Film brought out the purples and browns, especially in shadows,” he says. “That helped give the film a much more painterly look” that wouldn’t have been as easy to achieve with digital.
He shot the initial church scene via handheld camera, at first using a static shot to frame the scene. But as Reverend Roy releases a jar of spiders on his head while delivering his sermon about God “beholding me now,” Crawley says he started spinning the camera around, moving with the actor. “We went crazy, bouncing off Harry’s energy, and we kept it as this continuous shot so you could be swept up in this teaching.” He adds that real spiders helped achieve continuity.
While Reverend Roy’s scenes were about movement and mayhem, Pastor Teagardin’s sermons were shot fluidly, with the lens below eye line to lend him a sense of authority. “The camera was static, and we wanted it to feel that he was very much controlling it,” Crawley says.
Crawley notes that shot-listing the entire movie streamlined his collaboration with Campos. “It gave us a strong sense of building the visual language of the film,” Crawley explains. This was particularly useful during a confrontation between Arvin and Teagardin near the film’s climax, where the DP knew the plan was to ultimately capture the actors in a wide profile shot.
The scene begins with the camera staying close to Teagardin as he spots a person in the shadows. As Arvin is revealed, it becomes a standoff. Crawley says his framing and lighting choices were informed by Westerns like “The Searchers.” Throughout the film, Crawley used a framing ratio of 2:40 because “it has that epic feel to it. We could push our characters to either edge of the frame and exploit that ratio.”
The woods at the edge of town are almost another character in the movie. At the beginning of the film, Crawley presents them with lots of lush green as a hopeful Willard (Bill Skarsgård), Arvin’s father, returns from the war. But as hope diminishes, that space too becomes darker. “You can’t remove every leaf on every tree,” says the DP, “but we made the greens browner through the final grade.”