Apparently determined to work his way through the canon of great Southern writers (his adaptation of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying came and went), polymath and restless metastar James Franco takes on Cormac McCarthy’s backwoods-gothic novel about a mentally challenged serial killer roaming the Tennessee countryside. To his credit, Franco doesn’t soft-peddle the book’s squeamish aspects—murder, insanity and necrophilia—though the film’s po-faced attempts to match McCarthy’s poetic, macabre prose don’t add much to this tale of rural misanthropy. Neither does Scott Haze’s all-or-nothing performance, which doubles down on the repugnancy of antihero Lester Ballard but ultimately devolves into a lot of upward glowering, reminiscent of every third Kubrick character. It could have been so much worse; we wish it was a lot better.
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