The Stream: It takes too long to get the plot going.
The Big Screen: Once the action gets going, the tense mood and uneasy setting keeps this thriller thrilling.
The Final Bill: A slow-burn that catches fire a little too late.– Trip Fontaine
Director: Antonio Campos
Writers: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos
Stars: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgard, Sebastian Stan
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Rating: R for violence, bloody/disturbing images, sexual content, graphic nudity, and language
Runtime: 2 hours 11 minutes
While movie theaters in many places remain closed and the pandemic rages on, Netflix continues to premiere new and interesting films almost weekly. The Devil All the Time premiered in mid-September as a rare non-MCU film starring Peter Parker, Bucky Barnes, the new Bruce Wayne and Pennywise, himself. It’s such an interesting cast stuffed into this “Southern” Gothic, crime, thriller that it was sure to catch a lot of eyes. Here’s how it goes down.
The Devil All the Time is an adaptation of a novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who happens to narrate the film, and was directed by Antonio Campos. The movie relies heavily on mood, tension and disturbing themes about religion, family and sins of the past recurring in the future. Campos focuses on the building of character as it is really more important than plot. In fact, it takes about 45 minutes for any real plot to develop. Essentially, this film is about a young man, Arvin (Tom Holland), with a devastating past, who does everything in his power to protect his loved ones from the sinister and corrupt forces circling them in a Southern Ohio town. Campos keeps the novelistic tendencies of this story by focusing on the intricacies of the character of Arvin, his family, and the sprawling cast of this ensemble and also by including the narration by the novel’s author. Some of it is successful and some less so.
What works here is definitely the mood. From watching the trailer and seeing the poster, you know that you’re encountering something that will make you uneasy. The setting, the music and the deliberate pacing all come together to support the sense of dread lurking around each scene. There is brutal violence, expected and unexpected, and it can all be visceral and shocking. Tom Holland does a great job of anchoring this film. He’s appropriately taciturn and he shows the pained vulnerability of his character in each of his unexpected actions. Bill Skargard is great as Holland’s character’s father. He sets the creepy, ominous tone. These two performances must work in order for the movie not to be completely a messy bore.
On the other hand, it does take at least 45 minutes to get into the movie before it lets the audience know where it is going. There is a lot, maybe too much, setting the stage that it’s confusing as to what is important. Also, there are a lot of disparate characters. Above, I didn’t mention the serial killer husband and wife that come in and out of the story, the charismatic preacher played by Robert Pattison, who goes off the rails with his performance, and all of the deaths and brutality throughout. It’s all very shocking, but does it really have a purpose. Some of it doesn’t come together the way it should, and if the film were edited better or maybe 20 minutes shorter, it could be the tight Gothic thriller it should be.
Ultimately, The Devil All the Time is a good thriller that could have been better. Tom Holland and Bill Skargard give impactful performances that provide the film the weight it needs to keep your attention. It may be confusing at times to figure out what it’s all about, but if you stick with it, you won’t be disappointed. Grab a handful of popcorn and give it a chance.