It’s hard to escape those small towns and the sinister ideas that simmer in them right below the surface…
While The Devil All The Time isn’t EXACTLY what you think it’s going to be at first glance, but there’s a real compelling character study about the evil that men get up to and the people who struggle against it all, provided you’ve got the patience to see it through.
In Knockemstiff, Ohio and its neighboring backwoods, sinister characters — an unholy preacher (Robert Pattinson), twisted couple (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), and crooked sheriff (Sebastian Stan) — converge around young Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) as he fights the evil forces that threaten him and his family. Spanning the time between World War II and the Vietnam war, director Antonio Campos’ The Devil All The Time renders a seductive and horrific landscape that pits the just against the corrupted.
At first glance you’d expect a gritty southern noir out of The Devil All The Time and while it’s got a lot of those elements it is a SLOOOOOOOOOWWW burn of a movie to the point that you’re not even sure if it’s even moving at all in certain parts.
Director Antonio Campos (who you might remember from 2016’s criminally underrated Christine) is in the centre chair on this one and while there is no denying the man’s capacity for style he misses the mark just a bit here because while it is a visually stunning affair, it’s also just got a little too much padding to it. The script that he co-wrote with Paulo Campos (whom I can only assume is a brother or family member) adapted from the novel Donald Ray Pollack just has too much going on in it for far too long. It’s all interesting to be sure and I don’t doubt it played well in the book but on the screen it feels like they are simply trying to cram too much detail into a story that actually needed to be simplified rather than pumped up with detail and intrigue.
The age old struggle of good vs. evil really doesn’t need that much to sell itself and if you try and gum it up with too much exposition at the wrong pacing, you can lose focus. That almost happens here, especially in the first half of the film but is salvaged by some strong performances.
Tom Holland in his first non Spider-Man appearance in quite some time doesn’t own the frame like you’d hope in he would in this, but he’s delivering just enough to keep us engaged in the second half of the film as it builds towards its ultimate conclusion. There’s a wide array of supporting players in this as Bill Skarsgard does what he can to carry the first half of the film along with Mia Wasikowska, Haley Bennett, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough as these characters weave in and out of the complexities and dirty underbelly of small town life, but it was all too much. There are some characters that are ultimately pointless in the grand scheme of the narrative and there are others who you could actually have an entire movie about. No one is ever boring in this movie, but there’s so much going on at such seemingly random intervals it needed some legitimate filtering out to get it boiled down to the basics.
Ultimately, there’s something really good inside The Devil All The Time that would have made a hell of a movie, but everyone behind this simply threw too much at the screen and left it because it stuck. This is what we call a ‘compelling mess’; it’s got great potential, but execution is what makes truly memorable movie experiences, and this wasn’t it.