The Devil All The Time Review: He Never Actually Sleeps
So that’s a little disconcerting, I reckon.
If you can’t guess by the title, there’s very little light present here. In what may be one of the most thematically appropriate titled films of the year, The Devil All The Time almost instantly establishes that there’s an evil everywhere, as if the Devil itself is lingering in every corner, in every building, in every bathroom (this seems like a joke and it kind of is, but it actually makes sense in context of one scene). Yes, it’s a dark film. Even the scenes shot in the light have a menacing aura about them usually. Nobody is safe, whether it’s under the sun or the moon.
As the adage goes, sometimes bad things happen to good people. Arvin Russell witnessed his fair share of tragedy from a young age. I won’t go into detail about what exactly happened to him, but he lived in a small town that–like many small towns do, especially in this time period–made religion fundamental to their existence. That in itself is not a problem, but since Antonio Campos and co-writer Paulo made the Devil such a prominent presence, it is only fitting that God would be on the other side, to the point of religious fanaticism.
He then went onto another small town and had similar problems. Only this time he was older and wiser, but still haunted by his past experiences. This sets up a sort of generational violence and hostility, as the movie explores the idea of people gone to an extreme, and how wicked they can be. Occasionally someone is pure, yet troubled, but an opposing motif is there and it’s persistent, threatening to–and often succeeding in–devour everything. It’s suffocating.
The bad is that The Devil All The Time is a little longer than it needs to be. Clocking in at two hours and fifteen minutes, it’s a decidedly slow burn; one that takes its time and doesn’t reveal its hand until it’s good and ready. But when it does reach the climax it feels too quick. Some might see that as being representative of how fast and intense situations can be, but to me it came across more like the writers needed to wrap it up. It made the pacing feel uneven, in need of a little chopping. Sometimes less is more, and you only need to hit key points in order to establish motive and characterization. By extending it further you risk fluffing it, and to a certain extent there is fluff here.
With that said, it’s necessary for a flick like this to have good performances across the board. It’s the type of movie that one might expect to see award worthy performances from. Do I think that it’s crucial for the acting to be recognized at [insert award ceremony of your choice here]? Nah. All of the performances are good, some great, but hardly memorable in the grand scheme of things.
What the actors and actresses do is build onto their already solid work. This is the kind of foundational and resume building, the grind, the grunt work that builds character. It may be forgotten for the time being, but when reflected upon later on in their careers it will be a good reminder, a “oh yeah, he/she was good in this wasn’t he/she?”
Most notably there’s Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson. Perhaps this is just me but I was unsure about how I’d feel about Holland in a role like this. He is an excellent Spider-Man, but some of the same reasons he’s an excellent superhero contradict may contradict his casting here. I know, it’s acting and people can play multiple roles that are unique from one another, but to deny that a physical appearance and greatly alter one’s perspective of someone in a role is to miss the point. I know Holland can act. He was great in the overlooked Pilgrimage in 2017, but even there he played a sympathetic character who I wouldn’t define as exceptionally tough.
Admittedly I haven’t seen all his movies, so maybe he has done a role like this before. In which case, point me to it in the comments below. What’s important, however, is that I believed him here. I bought into him as being a rough kid who was toughened up by disaster, and whenever he did anything questionable I was never once in disbelief. In fact, his natural sympathetic posture actually aided him.
In a much smaller role you have Robert Pattinson, who for some reason still gets called the guy from the Twilight franchise. I get it, he made his name (and money) there, but he has positioned himself as a respectable talent since. I would argue that he’s often the best part in the films that he stars in. I would also argue that that may be true in this case as well.
He plays a pastor and he feels off from his introduction. You know there’s something terrible bubbling under the surface, much like the rest of The Devil All The Time. He’s symbolic of the whole ordeal. When what happens happens it’s not really a surprise; a feeling I didn’t have while watching it but while writing this I could see the dispute that it’s predictable.
Sometimes in movies there’s this sense of convenience that is usually acceptable because you want to have a cohesive and compelling story. It can be forced into existence when done poorly and here there’s a certain discussion that could be had supporting either side. I didn’t mind it and when a certain scene occurred it felt earned.
What helps is that there’s a logical–or at the very least philosophical, since logical might be the wrong choice of words here all things considered–reason for this: as stated earlier, the devil is everywhere, and this seeps into the plot. He orchestrates everything and it’s all a test. Of course, he doesn’t literally do this… some giant red dude with horns doesn’t walk off the set of a Tenacious D video and onto a Netflix platform. He doesn’t need the money that badly.
The Devil All The Time rides this line of being what I’d consider on mildly great–you know, saying, “yeah it’s great” as opposed to “this is great!”–but it’s also not a flick I’ll remember in years to come. It’s one of those where you watch once, enjoy your experience quite a bit, and then move on. It’s okay for those types of movies to inhabit the same planet as the legitimate classics or even the next tier down from that. It fills a particular niche and is a victory for Netflix; a desperately needed one after the tornado that is Cuties*.
*This isn’t me weighing in on the controversy about that movie.
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THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
AS GOOD AS TAKING A STROLL THROUGH THE WOODS
The Devil All The Time doesn’t redefine the genre, but what it does is give it a good showing. Held together most notably by good-to-great performances, it’s a dark and slightly twisted Southern Gothic tale where evil could be within all of us. Except the rabbit on this website, he’s innocent and perfect.