The Devil All The Time Review – The light of religion often makes things pretty dark
The Devil All the Time is a dramatic crime thriller about the converging of some deeply disturbed people and a young man who will do whatever it takes to protect his loved ones and survive. The film, directed by Antonio Campos, features a star-studded cast including Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Haley Bennet, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan, and many others.
The film begins on a map, detailing the apparent proximity but relative distance of a few towns in Ohio and West Virginia. It then opens on the Russel family. The narrator highlights how one simple act of Willard Russel (Skarsgård) taking a seat sets off the chain of events of the entire film. The first half of the film follows Willard’s story upon his return from the war, World War II. During the war, Willard witnesses a horrific act that turns him away from religion, that is until he and the love of his life rent a home and he sets up a cross nearby. There he prays every day and passes the practice to his son. However, things don’t go well and prayer doesn’t work, which eventually leads to some truly tragic events that lead Willard’s Son, Arvin (Holland), to go live with his grandmother. The second half of the film follows Arvin, as he becomes a lot like his father and makes the same mistakes as history begins to repeat itself for the descendants of those from the first half of the film.
The Devil All the Time is not a happy feel-good movie. By god is it dark. The title says “All the Time” and it damn sure means it. The film truly sheds a light on the darkness of religion. The morality of everything that takes place in the film is pretty much gray or directly evil. Willard Russel witnesses a truly horrible act committed on a cross, which understandably makes it hard for him to see the symbol of Christianity. However, it is an uplifting moment when he builds his own cross at his new home and tells his mother that he has started praying again. That is, until things go bad and his methods of prayer begin to expand far beyond kneeling and asking for things. After seeing what the cross brought his father to do, Arvin Russel understandably is not a devout Christian. But, he still goes to church with his grandma and adopted sister who are devoutly Christian. However, their devotion to the church leads to truly deplorable acts and behavior. Outside of the Russel family, nearly every deplorable character is deeply connected to Christianity. There’s a serial killer, a psychotic preacher, and even a morally questionable Sheriff. The film does not shy away from the teachings and does not hold back on the evil interpretations and blatant exploitation of the religion and its followers. It toes the line of condemning the religion and simply displaying an extreme, though far from unheard of, understanding and use of Christianity.
The powerfully dark and deplorable acts were so deeply impactful because of all the performances. Every cast member came to play, and absolutely nails it. Not one person, regardless of the size of the role, failed to fully embody their character. I’m surprised this film is out so early and not part of the Oscar push. Another thing that really drives the film deep into the minds, is the incredibly stark contrast of the men and women. Minus Riley Keough’s Sandy, the women are the embodiment of “good, church-going, Christians.” They’re kind, they’re generous, they’re supportive, and they’re all naive. Each one truly embodies the good and wholesome values to perfection, which leads them to be manipulated and hurt in numerous ways. Unfortunately, this also leads most of them to be objects and plot points for the male characters.
Of the obvious evils, we have Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke, and Harry Melling. I don’t want to give away their character’s parts in the film, so I’ll keep it vague. Melling’s Roy Laferty, fully inhabits a Kenneth Copeland type persona. The look in Melling’s eyes lets you know the absolute belief in their words and complete resolution to prove the power from their belief. Jason Clarke as Carl Henderson portrays a truly sick artist. Clark is able to ride this impressive line that has you understand his character’s evil acts, as justified in his character’s beliefs. It a weird sensation to know how wrong what he’s doing is, but also simultaneously “getting it.” Then there’s Robert Pattinson’s Preston Teagardin, who is the worst. Think of the worst things you can of a religious leader doing with their influence and you’re probably only scratching the surface of how crap of a person Teagardin is. Pattinson’s performance is incredible as I truly detest Teagardin. The twisting and abuse of religious principles and the manipulation of others somehow make his character the undoubted worst of them all.
Matching, if not even topping, Pattinson are Bill Skarsgård and Tom Holland. Bill Skarsgård’s Willard Russel goes through the widest range of emotions and mental states. Skarsgård fully embodies each. The young and PTSD stricken soldier finding love, the strong and resolute father, and the desperate husband who only wants to save his wife. Willard Russel is ran through the wringer and Skarsgård gets you to feel and experience it all with him. It all flows through into Tom Holland’s Arvin Russel, Willard’s son. Holland portrays an older version of Arvin after Willard’s part has ended. Arvin resents his father for his actions, but also deeply values and carries his teachings. His actions and the series of events leads Arvin to empathize and understand Russel more. Holland also goes through a range of emotions and states of mind. His first scene is a joyous one where he blows out the candle on his birthday cake which is a stark contrast to where his character ends. Holland does an incredible job having you understand his actions are necessary, regardless of how dark they get. Despite everything he ends up doing, it’s hard not to root for and understand his character.
Overall, The Devil All the Time is a gripping film that will have viewers wrecked with emotion. The film has fantastic performances that truly engulf viewers into these small towns and the giant troubles that befall them. Antonio Campos paces the movie like a book you can’t put down even when things just keep getting darker and darker. The film highlights the darkness of religion and the evils that can come from it, as well as shows how sometimes darkness can only be met by more darkness. The film fully exhibits its title in every sense of the word. If there is always God there is always The Devil All the Time. My The Devil All the Time review gets a 4/5.
The Devil All the Time releases on Netflix tomorrow September 16, 2020
The film information and official synopsis from Netflix are below:
Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos
Based on the Novel by Donald Ray Pollock
Producers: Randall Poster, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Max Born
Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Harry Melling, Eliza Scanlen, Pokey LaFarge with Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson
The Devil All the Time Review
The Devil All the Time is a gripping film that will have viewers wrecked with emotion. The film has fantastic performances that truly engulf viewers into these small towns and the giant troubles that befall them. Antonio Campos paces the movie like a book you can’t put down even when things just keep getting darker and darker. The film highlights the darkness of religion and the evils that can come from it, as well as shows how sometimes darkness can only be met by more darkness.