From The Lovebirds to Da 5 Bloods to Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga to The Old Guard to I’m Thinking Of Ending Things, it’s fair to say that Netflix has really kept us film lovers fed during the great cinematic shutdown of 2020. There have been ups and downs, with some offerings being better than others, but I can’t say that I’m not grateful! Of course, the fun doesn’t stop just because cinemas are starting to reopen. As long as we keep subscribing, Netflix are going to keep on giving! The latest gift in question is Antonio Campos’s The Devil All The Time.
Based on a 2011 novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All The Time tells an interweaving multigenerational tale that connects the lives of several characters along the Ohio/West Virginia border. The sweeping narrative takes the audience on a back and forth journey between 1945 and 1965, with the bulk of the connective tissue being linked to Arvil Russel (Tom Holland), an orphan boy who is sent from one town to another after a tragedy involving both of his parents.
It is incredibly difficult to talk about The Devil All The Time in a neat and succinct way, simply due to the the large ensemble cast and multiple plot threads that come together to make the picture. There is also the fear of revealing a plot point in one thread that alludes to a spoiler in another, so I’ll leave it at this, the film is flipping great.
As the name suggests, The Devil All The Time features religion very centrally, primarily the ‘underbelly’ of religious hypocrisy and all of the various sins and wrongs that can be committed in communities that, on the face of things, are filled with God fearing individuals. The film very much ticks the boxes when it comes to Southern Gothic, and any longtime reader of this blog will know that that particular genre is one of my favourites. There is something about the tension, the macabre, the melancholy, the eccentricity that draws me in every time, and The Devil All The Time is certainly no exception.
I don’t often come out of a film wishing that it had been longer, but that really is the case here. There is enough narrative meat to warrant a full Netflix series, let alone a single motion picture. The only criticism I can aim at the movie is that I wanted to spend more time with certain characters than others. There is no doubting that some story lines are stronger than others, but by the time the film comes to a close, one can see exactly why each inclusion was necessary. It might have been temping to try and streamline the narrative by cherry picking threads, but leaving it as it is adds so much depth and richness to the overall finished product.
Even the smallest roles are integral when trying to execute a large scale ensemble piece like this, and I’m happy to report that every member of the cast is outstanding. Tom Holland as (somewhat) protagonist Arvin Russel is endlessly watchable, very much a ‘diamond in the rough’ type character who, whilst having that inner sensitivity, is also very ready and willing to stand up to, and ultimately participate in, the problematic actions and circumstances that encapsulate his community and his life. From Spider-Man to here, it is clear that Holland is one of the few who can effortlessly switch between popcorn blockbuster characters and serious dramatic characters. You don’t need me to tell you that he is certainly one to keep watching for the future.
There are too many other great performances to mention in such a short review, but taking a minute to highlight just a few, Bill Skarsgard as Arvin’s father Willard, Eliza Scanlen as his adopted sister Lenora, Kristin Griffith as his grandmother and Harry Melling as a suspicious travelling preacher all do fantastic work. The tapestry of the film’s universe feels very rich and the various actors at its helm are responsible.
Special mention to Robbert Pattinson who, after Tenet, is continuing his run of stealing films with supporting performances in 2020. His turn here as Preston Teagardin, the new Reverend in town, is deliciously over the top, but in a way that feels completely fitting rather than distracting (I’m looking at you, The King!). From someone who was long hailed as the next big ‘leading man’, Pattinson seems instead to excel in the smaller supporting roles that offer him more dynamic, interesting work. I’m here for it.
Overall, The Devil All The Time is one of the more engrossing, interesting, roller coaster ride type dramas that I have seen this year. A film that, whilst feeling very much like a novel adaptation, still manages to branch out in a pleasing cinematic way. It is a deeply atmospheric, Southern Gothic romp filled with twists, turns and satisfyingly tied bows in the final third. Another home run for Netflix, in my opinion!