The Devil All the Time is the latest Netflix original film, and it’s very bleak, dark, gritty, and depressing. This film is a twisted tale of murder and revenge, all mixed into a harrowing narrative. The film will divide the audience, and despite its impressive and well-known cast, it won’t be what many casual movie watchers were expecting from it based on the previous work of most of the actors involved.
The film has a nonlinear storyline, spanning two different eras: the end of World War II and the beginning of the Vietnam War. It takes place in Ohio’s backwoods, where Willard Russell’s wife is succumbing to cancer, no matter how much he drinks, prays, or sacrifices animals at his “prayer log.” Meanwhile, his son Arvin is growing up, from a kid bullied at school into a man who knows when to take action. Around them, swirl an infamous cast of characters, including a demented team of serial killers, a spider-eating preacher, and a corrupt local sheriff all braided into a riveting gritty American grain narrative.
The film goes to some bothersome places. It feels like every few minutes, something terrible happens, whether it involves murder or sexual abuse. There is not a single pleasant moment in the film, and if you feel it is, it quickly turns sideways. It’s a genuinely fascinating film experience that refuses to shy away from the world’s unpleasant realities. At times it feels like a dark Coen brothers film without the humor.
The film is 138 minutes, and you feel the run time, especially in the first act, which is the weakest part of the film. It picks up a lot once Tom Holland comes in at around the 45-minute mark.
I wouldn’t take anything out because I loved how it gave every big-name actor a little something to do or the very least, provide a purpose in the narrative. No matter how small or big the role was, they all served to drive the story forward, even those who got the short end of the stick like Mia Wasikowska and Haley Bennet.
I only wish the editing and pacing were better for the flow of the story. It nonetheless brilliantly weaves a harrowing web of deadly sins and evil characters. Spectacularly, the film tackles themes including faith, the abuse of religion, corruption, deceit, lust, and how some people become violent due to growing up in a hostile environment.
As previously stated, I loved how this film is an ensemble one. The film’s massive and dynamic cast all get time to shine. There’s no real lead here despite what was advertised with Tom Holland being front and center in the posters might make you think. The Devil All the Time is an outstanding acting showcase for many of them, but Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson are the film’s MVPs. They are the de facto hero and villain of the story.
Speaking of Holland, this is a role that’s different than any he’s played before. He is very much a tortured soul, and he goes to some dark places with this disturbing performance that allowed him to show a range that his previous films haven’t clued us into knowing he has. His character is the one you feel the most for as he goes through one terrible thing after another. I just kept thinking to myself; please give this dog a bone. His character doesn’t have much good happen for him, with life continually beating him down. This dark performance has me excited to see his version in The Russo Brother’s Cherry, which will be an even more significant departure for him than this.
Robert Pattinson is the reverend from hell in this. I won’t spoil anything, but he isn’t as innocent as he initially seems. He does some excellent work here, although he’s delivered a psychotic performance before, but never in this way. He is the epitome of creepy in his work here. He balances his performance perfectly and never overacts, which is an approach a lesser talented actor would have taken with this role. This is yet another performance of his I can point people towards, who doubt his skills and only see him as Edward from Twilight when they look at him.
There are a few more impressive turns in the film that deserve equal praise. Bill Skarsgard was excellent as a tormented WWII soldier and led the first 30 minutes of the film. Eliza Scanlen as the half-sister of Tom Holland’s character, and the only person he truly cares for, continues to show she’s one of our brightest and most talented actresses. Riley Keough and Jason Clarke, as a team of serial killers, are very repulsive and disturbing. The way they feed off the fear of their prey was a stomach turner. Sebastian Stan, as a corrupt sheriff, was every bit different than Bucky Barnes. While not as dark as say his performance as the abusive husband in I, Tonya, it’s still nice to see him work outside of the MCU. As a spider eating preacher, Harry Melling was great, making every minute of his short screen time count. He gave a better villain performance than his mediocre work in his other Netflix film, The Old Guard. It’s still hard to believe how far he’s come from playing Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter franchise.
Antonio Campos directs the film. I’ve seen his previous films such as Christine, Afterschool, and Simon Killer, so I knew to an extent what to expect, that it wouldn’t be a very commercially viable film. The Devil All the Time feels like a film of his done on a larger scale than before.
Not that he has a distinct style where you can point out a movie of his, but he loves to follow disturbed characters in his work. With this film, Campos wants to make you think about the effects religion can have on people, significantly growing up, and it makes you question whether following a religion is worth what is required from you. I loved how he was able to manage such a large cast, giving enough focus on every character.
The third act, especially, is when the film reaches the next level for me. It is an incredibly suspenseful ride to the finish line. It moves faster than the slower first two acts of the film, but it was a change of pace that worked to the film’s benefit. After 90 minutes of so much happening and Campos showing us anything goes in this dark and seedy world, it was all to prepare us for this finale.
When the film ended, I felt mixed about it, but the more I thought about it after it completed, the more I realized how much enjoyed it. It’s a film that has many disturbing images that will stay with you for a while. Not an experience that will be for everybody but a journey that many should take.
The Devil All the Time is, hands down, one of the more substantial Netflix original offerings of this year, and yet another example of why Netflix is the home for daring filmmakers. They want creative freedom to realize their visions without having to compromise.