REVIEW: The Devil All The Time (2020)

Film Poster
Release Poster — Netflix

Directed by Antonio Campos (Christine) — Screenplay by Antonio & Paul Campos.

In a year such as 2020, where a global pandemic has changed our lifestyle drastically and paralyzed the entertainment industry, major new releases from streaming services such as Netflix end up meaning quite a lot. The release of The Devil All the Time is one that I have been looking forward to for quite some time, as it is an adaptation of a popular novel by a relatively seasoned filmmaker and since it features an absolutely incredible and star-studded ensemble cast. It is a dark, bleak, and depressing film that will likely divide audiences, but I have to say that it had my complete interest for the entire run-time. It isn’t necessarily a film that will be remembered years from now, but it is a dark and gripping slow-paced drama about violence, religion, and America.

Antonio Campos’ The Devil All the Time is based on the award-winning Donald Ray Pollock debut novel of the same name. Adapted by director Antonio Campos and his brother Paulo, The Devil All the Time is a post-war period thriller that takes place in Ohio during the mid-20th century. The film follows Willard Russell (played by Bill Skarsgård) and his son, Arvin (chiefly played by Tom Holland). Willard is a World War II-veteran who is haunted by his memories from the war, which has warped and forever altered his understanding of religion. When the family is struck by tragedy, Willard’s action forever changes Arvin’s life. As Arvin becomes a young adult, he grows to distrust religion and, instead, resolve conflict through violence. When a new preacher, Reverend Preston Teagardin (played by Robert Pattinson), comes into town, Arvin’s relationship with religion, and those who preach it, takes a turn for the worse. Arvin and the people in his life are continually surrounded by threatening and immoral individuals, and they make it difficult for him to protect the people that he cares deeply about.

Though the film is set in Ohio, Campos’ film is really modeled as a Southern Gothic film. The Devil All the Time is an American Gothic epic about postwar trauma, transgenerational trauma, and a Midwestern family’s relationship with violence and religion. It is a bleak, dark, and punishing epic whose deliberate pace and multiple storyline-narrative. Campos’ film is ambitious and relentless, and the director/co-writer mostly succeeds with this blend of Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, and Gareth Evans’ Apostle. Campos’ film is at its best when it is concerned with the Russells and the films two important preachers — Pattinson’s Teagardin and Harry Melling’s Roy Laferty — but it struggles ever so slightly with the secondary storyline, which can sometimes feel like somewhat of a detour, involving Sebastian Stan, Jason Clarke, and Riley Keough’s characters. This storyline sometimes takes the momentum out of the film, but you could not have left it on the cutting room floor, since it occasionally connects with the Russell storyline.

The thriller, which is narrated by author Donald Ray Pollock, is boosted by its star-studded and uniformly solid ensemble cast that also includes actors such as Eliza Scanlen, Haley Bennett, and Mia Wasikowska. Perhaps the most remarkable film about the film is the lengths to which an actor like Tom Holland has gone to prove his range. If you thought Holland’s exciting and popular blockbuster film performances as Spider-Man was all he could, then his performance as Arvin will prove to you that he is no one-trick pony. His accent-work is committed and convincing, and he manages to become a character unlike anything he has ever been famous for playing. The other very memorable standout performance is delivered by Robert Pattinson (Good Time; Tenet), whose accent-work has already proven to be more divisive. Pattinson plays a slippery and despicable preacher who abuses his power in the local community, and I think Pattinson’s committed performance is one of the highlights of the film. Even though his accent is over-the-top, I think it is a choice that works due to how conceited his character is. Though not as memorable, Bill Skarsgård (IT: Chapters One and Two) and Henry Melling (The Harry Potter-franchise) also deliver quite strong performances.

The Devil All the Time is not for the faint of heart. Campos’ postwar period epic is an unhurried meditation on violence, religion, and transgenerational trauma in the American heartland. The film absolutely will not work for everyone, as the combination of the film’s gruesome scenes, deliberate pace, and bleak tone is sometimes overwhelming. But this is an epic that can stick with you, in part because of how memorable some of the pivotal performances are.

8 out of 10

Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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