VOD film review: The Devil All the Time
Luke Channell | On 19, Sep 2020
Director: Antonio Campos
Cast: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke
Set amid a menacing Ohio landscape where a pair of serial killers roam freely and a sinister preacher exploits young women, Antonio Campos’ mid-western gothic weaves together multiple characters over two decades in a relentlessly bleak yet constantly engrossing tale. Adapting the film from Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 novel of the same name, Campos handles the intricacies of the source material adroitly and creates a dark, expertly crafted thriller that makes the most out of its stellar ensemble cast.
The story spans from the 1940s to the 1960s in the small town of Knockemstiff and much of the narrative revolves around orphaned teen Arvin (Tom Holland), who, despite his own violent tendencies, is the closest thing the film has to a moral compass. Arvin takes it upon himself to protect fellow orphaned stepsister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), but events take a turn for the worse when the town’s new Reverend (Robert Pattinson) takes a special interest in her.
Elsewhere, waitress Sandy (Riley Keough) and keen photographer Carl (Jason Clarke) form a troubling relationship and embark on a murderous killing spree, snapping pictures of their victims. The pair continually evade capture thanks to Sandy’s corrupt brother (Sebastian Stan), who works as a sheriff. As the narrative progresses, the characters’ paths converge in brutal and unexpected ways.
The Devil All the Time begins a little aimlessly, focusing on the tragic demises of Arvin and Lenora’s parents for longer than necessary. But the momentum picks up as the characters’ lives begin to intertwine in the film’s second act. Antonio and Paulo Campos’ script impressively builds a tense, brooding atmosphere, which feels ready to explode into violence at any moment. This suspenseful mood reaches a crescendo in a riveting and hugely satisfying finale, which sees each plotline come to fruition. The different stories and time periods are aptly connected by brilliant narration from Pollock – the author of the original novel himself.
Campos has a brilliantly talented cast at his disposal who all put in committed performances. Clarke and Keough make for a suitably sadistic serial killer couple, but it’s Pattinson and Holland who particularly stand out. Pattinson is unrecognisable as the insidious, predatory Reverend, and he nails the contradictions of a man who preaches about sin while committing it. It’s refreshing to see a different side of Holland; he’s given his meatiest role to date and he delivers in fierce style with a compelling, deeply felt turn. The few scenes containing Pattinson and Holland make for some of the film’s most enthralling and striking moments.
Considering the film unfolds over a 20-year period, the production design feels exceptionally authentic throughout and helps sketch a vivid snapshot of the era. The powerful themes of religious fanaticism, murder, redemption and the generational cycle of violence feel all the more evocative thanks to this strong sense of place and time. With its unrelenting misery and violence, The Devil All the Time is definitely not for everyone, but those who stick with its sprawling tale will be rewarded with inventive, absorbing storytelling and an array of captivating performances.