PG Score: 8/10
The Devil All the Time is a grisly collage of revolting characters and their heinous misdeeds. It tackles religious themes in a violent and thought-provoking manner. The all-star ensemble cast carries the film via a host of powerhouse performances. The long list of significant names attached to the movie is likely the biggest draw for most viewers and rightfully so.
Based on a book of the same name (written by Donald Ray Pollock, who also narrates the film), The Devil All the Time takes place in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia after World War II. The premise centers on a young man who does everything he can to protect his own from an array of repulsive villains.
The plot unfolds primarily during the 1950s and '60s and follows two generations of characters. It jumps back and forth between past and present coherently, which is especially important given that the flashbacks are integral to much of the story. Its slow-burn approach is devilishly effective as there is a constant sense of dread throughout the story. Even when it seems like things cannot get any worse for our protagonist, there is still that ominous sense of something more harrowing looming on the horizon.
Director Antonio Campos (Simon Killer) expertly wields his exceptionally talented cast. At just over 2 hours and 15 minutes, the meaty runtime is extremely well-paced. It never drags and is packed with incredible acting from start to finish. Every actor excels in their respective role and is given just the right amount of screen time. With such a massive roster, the fact that no one is underutilized is truly a testament to both excellent direction from Campos and exemplary work from casting director Douglas Aibel.
Now to get to that lineup. The magnificent cast includes Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, Haley Bennett, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan, Harry Melling, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, and Douglas Hodge. The talent on paper alone is stunning but the fact everyone delivers makes the squad of A-listers that much more impressive. Given the sheer size of the cast, it makes sense to highlight a few of the standouts.
Tom Holland plays the central figure, Arvin Russell. It is refreshing to see the range of which he is capable. Despite him stepping into the shoes of one the few “good” characters in the movie, Arvin is no Peter Parker. With so much darkness engulfing him, he is bound to unleash some fury of his own and Holland displays this masterfully. It is a gradual and subtle descent, as Arvin isn’t a bad person. The encroaching external forces corner him into an internal struggle that is expertly captured by fantastic acting. This is Tom Holland’s best work and it is not even close.
Bill Skarsgård plays Arvin’s father, Willard Russell. He has a brooding presence and is much quieter than most of the other characters. Skarsgård, best known for his iconic performances as Pennywise in Andy Muschietti’s It movies, displays some versatility here in a role reminiscent of Ryan Gosling’s detached character in Drive.
Riley Keough plays Sandy Henderson and continues to shine in each role she adds to her resume. Sandy is a very multidimensional character whose arc is quite intriguing. Keough is captivating as she effectively portrays this nuanced individual. She is a gifted actress and has proven she is up to the task of delivering great performances in a variety of roles.
Last but certainly not least, Robert Pattinson takes the reins as preacher Preston Teagardin. Even before the release of The Devil All the Time, it was clear that he possessed immense range. His latest outing is no exception and in a film populated with abhorrent human beings, Preston somehow manages to take the cake for being the most sinister. His scenes are the most likely to make your skin crawl. Pattinson once again manages to show the world that he is far from reaching his ceiling.
The phenomenal acting mostly overshadows the few issues in The Devil All the Time. Arguably the most notable is the somewhat haphazard sequence of events. While the chronology and flashbacks make sense, some of the scenes feel like individual episodes in an anthology series. This is partly due to the vast number of characters. The plot covers so much ground and is filled with so many names that it occasionally feels like it is scrambling to intertwine its many pieces.
The only other negative is that the climax does feel a bit underwhelming. It is by no means a major letdown nor is it lacking merit entirely. However, for a film overflowing with memorable performances and chilling scenes, one cannot help but yearn for a more stirring finale.
The Devil All the Time is a movie that urges the viewer to consider the darker themes associated with religion. Antonio Campos handles the unsettling topics with commendable finesse while bringing some truly disturbing literary characters to life. The transcendent cast drives home the message through raw, haunting performances. Apart from a few missteps, this is a superb film and absolutely deserving of your next Netflix selection.