Movie: "The Devil All the Time"
Release Date: Sept. 16, 2020
Director: Antonio Campos
Runtime: 2 hours 18 minutes
Genre: Crime, drama, thriller
Netflix’s trend of attracting huge stars to niche stories continues with "The Devil All the Time," a Gothic psychological thriller following many characters, by director and co-writer Antonio Campos. Featuring stellar acting from the large ensemble cast and a decidedly twisted tone, "The Devil All the Time" is a darkly enjoyable ride.
A corrupt sheriff, an orphaned son of a religious fanatic war veteran, two serial killers and a suspicious new preacher in town are set against the backdrop of a post-World War II America. The film primarily takes place in 1965 around Ohio and West Virginia.
Where the film succeeds best is in the acting. Everyone gives what can best be described as a “yeehaw” performance — the whole cast really dives into their Southern accents, ranging from decent to gloriously hammy.
Tom Holland spearheads the ensemble, showing real growth as a young actor. It’s nice to see him stretch his wings outside of playing Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He gives Arvin Russell, the ostensible main character, a lot of richness and maturity.
Bill Skarsgård, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan and Eliza Scanlen are all uniformly good and perform well in the world Campos has developed, but the most engaging role is Robert Pattinson as Reverend Preston Teagardin. Whether it’s his high-pitched voice or exaggerated Southern drawl, Pattinson once again proves his "Twilight" days are behind him and adds life to the movie.
Thematically speaking, "The Devil All the Time," shocker, deals with religion. At its core, the story centers around religious hypocrisy and disillusionment. Almost every character thinks their actions are or will be justified by scripture, even if there’s no evidence to prove their theories.
Arvin’s father, Willard, believes piety and sacrifice will save his wife at the cost of his sanity. Serial killers Carl and Sandy Henderson believe murder brings them closer to God. Reverend Teagardin uses his position of power to sexually prey on devout girls, taking advantage of their faith to excuse his actions. The only character who sees through all the religious smoke and mirrors is Arvin, who goes through a crisis of faith over the course of the movie.
By far the clunkiest element of the film is the narrative. There are simply too many characters and too many subplots that don’t mesh together into a cohesive whole. The movie takes a bunch of literal and figurative detours, which add up to nothing in the grand scheme of things.
"The Devil All the Time" finally affords Campos the opportunity to "play in the sandbox," so to speak, working with big stars and a more expansive story. It has the sort of “true crime but not true crime” element that Campos carries over from his work on the television series "The Sinner," an anthology crime drama mystery.
While the serial killer storyline is good from a thematic standpoint, it isn’t integrated into the plot as nicely as it should be. The same goes for the sheriff’s corruption subplot. The payoff is slim to none. Part of this could be because of the source material.
The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, who also narrates the movie, but its sprawling nature makes more sense on paper than on film. This can be attributed to the occasionally unfocused script by Campos and his brother Paulo. In truth, the film should’ve solely been about Arvin and his conflict with Reverend Teagardin.
With all that said, "The Devil All the Time" is still a solid movie. It strikes just the right tone for the type of story it tells.
Holland and Pattinson give two off-brand but affecting performances in a film dead set on its grim atmosphere. "The Devil All the Time" isn’t entirely without sin, but it’s well worth indulging in nonetheless.