A woeful tale set in between two cities in the post-war deep south, The Devil All the Time follows three families, separated by time and spirit, but connected through generational tragedy as they all seek to sacrifice virtue in the name of faith. The Devil All the Time is a rural gothic adaptation based on Donald Ray Pollock’s acclaimed novel of the same name. Written and directed by Antonio Campos, The Devil All The Time is a grisly tale that seeks to explore devoted faith, as choice and coincidence converge in the absence of divine intervention.
War-torn tormented veteran, Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) seeks to find refuge for his wife, Charlotte, through prayer and twisted sacrifice. Fatal Husband-and-Wife Carl and Sandy Henderson, place their faith in death, as serial killer-lovers who hunt unsuspecting hitchhikers to capture the perfect photograph. God-fearing traveling preacher Roy (Harry Melling), followed by his paralyzed brother, Theodore, find themselves on the run after they take their test of faith too far, in the name of blind devotion in divine intervention. At the heart of it all is Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), the son Willard and Charlotte leave behind , struggles to find faith in the face of devastating loss, is forced to face his own battle with the devil as he seeks refuge and revenge on those whose unforgivable sins have cursed his family.
These characters commit countless disturbing acts, spuriously deemed as “Sacrifice”, in the name of blind faith. It seems like a generational curse is passed down, as the dominoes fall and characters continue a cycle of sin as they recreate and pay for their predecessors transgressions in this tragic film. The film has an amazing cast, whose performances carry the story in its dragging moments.
Tom Holland gives an understated and, at times, subdued performance as the film’s lead. He lacks his normal charm and charisma that makes him distinguishable on-screen, and his performance feels stifled and muted during the first act. His character and performance, I find, is overshadowed by the performances of his well-seasoned ensemble. It was difficult to maintain a connection with him in the times when his story arc lulled. During the second half of the film, however, he becomes distinguished and leaves us with a heartbreaking performance and masterful conclusion.
Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan, and Harry Melling are a sinister trio in this film noir.
Robert Pattinson’s inimitable performance as the vile Preacher, Preston Teagardin was chilling and left a wonderfully bitter taste even after the credits rolled. That high pitched back-woods southern drawl is a thing of nightmares and we’ll be lucky if we are able to forget it. Sebastian Stans’ Corrupt Sheriff Lee Bodecker is a staple in the film. His character’s faith in power and prestige, and what he’ll do to maintain it is extremely relevant. Harry Melling as Spider-wielding Preacher Roy, is exceptional. His unshakeable devotion is extremely fun to watch, and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future. Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough are all a part of an amazing ensemble.
An eclectic set of characters make The Devil All the Time a colorful watch at moments, but with a fragmented narrative, jumbled storylines, and a taxing first act, the deadly crime thriller is slow to gain a pulse despite its dynamic star-studded cast.
The Devil All the Time is not for the faint of heart. There is an insurmountable amount of violence and gore, some of which I find to be needless, but it gets its point across. Its unnerving and aggressive style of filming can be jarring at times, the colors are muted and forgettable, but serve to escalate the impact of the grizzly imagery that appears throughout.
Campos utilizes an omniscient narrator voiced by the adaptation’s author, Pollock. This makes the film feel a bit imbalanced, especially with the jumps in time. At times the narration dilutes the impact of the emotional sequences, while also enhancing the beats of others. It works until it doesn’t.
The pacing is inconsistent. It drags at the beginning, lulls in some moments, and momentum is brought to a disrupting halt when the narrator engages with the story at times.
In terms of content paired with the environment, there is an additional issue that’s painfully clear. That’s the utter omission of black and brown faces. Over the 20 year span of the narrative not once is a person of color presented, which in itself feels unnatural. Was that the point? At times the film feels like a farce, a dark religious fantasy: Caricatured preachers with Kentucky fried chicken drawls, Twisted Crucifixes, and gullible church goers. The film is an exaggerated reality that exists on its own scope. So I will treat it as such. I’m on the fence and I opt to stay there.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
In the end, Campos unwaveringly explores themes of faith, poverty, and trauma with bleak and vivid recurring religious motifs and imagery that borders on voyeuristic. Campos pens a multi-layered script that does allow the audience to question whether or not coincidence or choice is at work, and makes room for interesting after-show debate. The Devil All the Time, however dense and tangled, is engaging and arresting when it chooses to be. There are unforgettable moments and visuals that will shake you to your core. Our faith in the actors and their performances are what holds it all together, but like the film it makes me question if blind faith is enough.