“The Devil All the Time” Review

In light of a global pandemic, it can be disheartening going nearly an entire year without any new blockbuster films. We’ve all had to adapt and it seems our favorite A-listers have made their move to the small-screen, most notably in the way of Netflix originals. The latest to come down the pipe is the highly anticipated “The Devil All the Time,” directed by Antonio Campos and based on the novel written by Donald Ray Pollock. 

The story follows a tangled web of characters in rural Ohio from the 1940s to the 1960s, a rough world where everyone is recovering from the lasting effects of World War II. The story begins at the end of the war following Willard, played by Bill Skarsgård, who is suffering trauma from the horrors of the South Pacific and is trying to reconcile that pain with God. While Skarsgård’s time in the film is mostly confined to the first act, he gives it his all and beautifully sets up the arc of his character’s son, Arvin, played by Tom Holland.

Going in, the main selling point for this film was certainly the top-tier cast, namely Holland and Robert Pattinson who both show up in the second act to create the inciting action. Creating an inciting incident this late in a film is certainly unusual, but if you can get on board with the slower moving plot, it works remarkably well. Arvin is the orphaned son of Willard, who lives with his adopted parents and sister,  who is played by Eliza Scanlen. As I mentioned, the  film is a tangled web, which makes sense as it is  an adaptation, but it’s not exactly justified in practice. There are roughly three separate storylines led by different characters that eventually converge to create a convoluted but ultimately satisfying ending. That being said, I would have loved to see each of these plots extrapolated further into some type of limited series,
especially with the knowledge that the book itself is broken into six distinctive parts.

So, what really sets “The Devil All the Time” apart from your average drama? As you may have guessed, it’s the performances. Most notably, Pattinson’s high-pitched Tennessee drawl absolutely steals the spotlight every time his character, Reverend Teagardin, gets up to preach. He is an increasingly intriguing villain that perfectly mirrors the tortured, morally confused Arvin. Their dichotomy is effectively what separates this film from the rest, especially in the latter half.

If you enjoy a slow burn period drama, “The Devil All the Time” is just that: a dissection of American morality and its justification in a cruel world. It falters at the hands of its editor who cannot seem to match the pace of the action with the pace of an intricate story but ultimately this film is saved by its wonderful, articulate performances and a satisfying third act.