Published by Fran Cava
Released on Netflix the morning of September 16th, The Devil All the Time is a psychological thriller with a ensemble cast comprising of big names like Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, and Sebastian Stan. It is based on the book of the same name, written by Donald Ray Pollack and is the 4th feature film from American film director Antonio Campos. The film in its two hour and 18 minute run-time jumps around a bit following several characters, spanning from 1945 to 1965.
The first 45 minutes or so of the film act as a prologue, introducing the parents of Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) and side characters that will be important later like the serial killer couple of Sandy (Riley Keough) and Carl (Jason Clarke), Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan) the dirty sheriff, and Arvin’s stepsister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). In this first part of the story the audience learns that religion is going to be a prominent theme of the film, and how religious radicalism is tied into violence. Death is also a major theme throughout, as the film takes a page out of Game Of Thrones making any and every character expendable. Not that its a negative but the film is extremely VIOLENT, with a death count well over 10. At some points it seems comical at the rate people are dying, but hey thats how it was back then I guess.
The cast delivered pretty well, especially Tom Holland. Everyone knows him as Spider-Man at this point in his career, so it was nice to see him taking on a completely different and challenging role as a teenager in the south with a really shitty life. He plays the the teen role well, and his accent was pretty believable. His character is practically a reincarnation of his father, that being alluded to through flashbacks and just being put in similar situations that his father had dealt with. The weakest link of the major characters surprisingly was Robert Pattinson. He’s no stranger to playing the weird guy but he may have went a bit over the top in this one. Playing a pedophile reverend from the South, Pattinsons accent seemed forced and just simply wasn’t believable. In his monologues he goes overboard with the theatrics, and at some points due to the accent is inaudible. Sebastian Stan decided to follow his friend Spidey into this film, and played the dirty sheriff role adequately. It was funny to see him without the long luscious hair of Bucky Dent, which made him almost unrecognizable.
The Devil All the Time is driven heavily by its narration, as we the audience really depend on him explaining the exposition. The dialogue however rings true, depicting the time period well and it gives tremendous insight to how crazy these people in the small town of Knockemsniff truly are. The best part of the script is how well the writers were able to build tension. One scene in the beginning particularly puts the audience on the edge of their seat expecting a bloodbath inside the small abode, but nothing happens. The writing mixed with the great direction and intense music were able to fool the audience, and there are several other instances of this later on in the film. While the first 45 minutes were very unpredictable, as the film progresses the fate of some characters becomes pretty formulaic. Besides the fact that the story comes full circle, the plot is really non-existent. The characters do tie together in a rather creative fashion, but overall the only thing that progresses the “story” is when somebody is killed. The plot really just focuses on connecting all the characters and how death surrounds Arvin at all times.
The best aspects of the film without a doubt are the camera work from Antonio Campos and the cinematography done by Lol Crawley. There was a great mix of wide ranging shots, to close-ups with fantastic panning that really made up for some dull moments in the film. One scene particularly that was breathtaking takes place in the church, as we get a full view inside the corrupted house of God while still being able to see a car pull away through a half opened door.
An example of the superb cinematography is seen in this powerful opening scene that seems to be inspired by Sergio Leone, showing a full-shot of solider left for dead on a cross. The camera work outshined the actual screenplay, and thats really just a testament to how well it was shot. The music was had a very 1950’s shoo-wop feel, which helped create a very realistic setting for the audience.
While the overwhelming amounts of death may drive people away, the film has a lot of redeemable qualities that made it an enjoyable watch. Is it award worthy? No, but you wont be disappointed by the time the credits roll around.
Score: High 6