In Reviews

September 18th, 2020




The darkest and most depressing movie of 2020 would have to be The Devil All the Time. That does not mean it is a bad movie. I found it to be fascinatingly bleak and incredibly honest. Antonio Campos’ new film, from the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, with the screenplay adapted by Campos and brother Paulo Campos, is a deep and troubling story, about innocent people living in a world that is brutal. It’s about a young boy, his father returning from WWII, and the surrounding characters that represent more sinners than saints. That’s a vague description, but there’s a lot to pull out of the mud after watching The Devil All the Time. At the core of it all, is the complexity of humans, and how there is a bad side to all of us. The question is, will you tap into that bad side and use it for good or evil?

With a large cast of actors, The Devil All the Time spans across many years. It’s a spider-web, introducing us to the backwoods of West Virginia from the 40’s to the late 1960’s. Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) is raised in the church, but never believes in it much. He fights in WWII and when he comes back home he meets Charlotte (Haley Bennett) at a diner. They marry, have a son named Arvin (Tom Holland), along the way something clicks, Willard begins to use prayer as his reasoning for everything. Especially when Charlotte is diagnosed with cancer, with Willard forcing Arvin to pray at a wood cross in the yard. When Charlotte dies, Willard takes his own life, and Arvin learns quickly, he must survive on his own. What follows is the connection of various players, each one with characteristics that include a deceitful woman (Riley Keough), a serial murder (Jason Clarke), a crooked police officer (Sebastian Stan), a preacher that embodies a wolf in sheeps clothes (Robert Pattinson), and an innocent woman (Eliza Scanlan) made victim to the wicked people around her. It’s all through the narrative voice of Arvin and how he navigates it all.

The comparisons that one can make to The Devil All the Time is nearly every Cormac McCarthy novel. What Campos captures perfectly is the tone of despair and the unfair nature of a person’s existence. That is something we see in No Country for Old Men and especially in The Counselor, both highlighting the lengths one will go with their greed, followed by painful suffering. What is more evident in The Devil All the Time, is how characters use religion and the guilt that others feel as a source of manipulation. It is those that invoke the words of god that seem able to do the worst harm. Typically, something I am annoyed with is narration, but here it is conducted by Pollack himself, adding a layer of authenticity to the story being told. There’s also an excellent maturity to Tom Holland in his performance as Arvin. The baby faced boy we know from Spider-Man: Homecoming conveys an excellent mixture of someone learning the violent capabilities of himself and others.

A way I would describe a movie like The Devil All the Time is to stick it through. The pace of a narrative such as this can become waning, often hard to swallow for how violent and vile some of the characters can be, but each moment has a purpose. When Arvin comes face to face with Pattinson’s Pastor Preston Teagardin, it is the meeting of good and evil personified. Pattinson’s performance is that of a slimy used car salesman, manipulating women in his congregation, and showing disdain for those he cannot use. His work, along with the entire cast, is a full commitment to the characters and the material, which is what makes The Devil All the Time work.

And will The Devil All the Time leave you feeling cheery and chipper? Not in the slightest. This is the kind of cynical drama that you appreciate because it goes there. The costumes, sets, and settings create an authentic look, similar to films such as Mudbound or Winter’s Bone. There’s an often autumn hue to the color and feeling of golden slumbers to a picture like this. The Devil All the Time is soaked in blood and dirt, holy water and tears, and there’s not a lot of it that will wash away. The Devil All the Time is a righteous slice of American life.



Written by: Leo Brady

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