The Devil All The Time Review: A Compelling Tale of Cyclic Generational Violence

Rating: 

8.5/10

Cast:

Tom Holland as Arvin Russell

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Bill Skarsgård as Willard Russell

Riley Keough as Sandy Henderson

Jason Clarke as Carl Henderson

Sebastian Stan as Sheriff Lee Bodecker

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Haley Bennett as Charlotte Russell

Eliza Scanlen as Lenora Laferty

Mia Wasikowska as Helen Hatton

Robert Pattinson as Rev. Preston Teagardin

Harry Melling as Roy Laferty

Co-Written & Directed by Antonio Campos; Co-Written by Paulo Campos

The Devil All The Time Review:

What comes around goes around is a theme that has been instrumental in storytelling since pretty much the dawn of time in everything from Star Wars to The Lion King to The Place Beyond the Pines and while most stories delving into this concept generally focus on one character’s journey, Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All The Time wove a multi-generational tale that captured this theme amongst a dozen others and Antonio Campos has brought the novel to life in compelling fashion.

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.

The Southern Gothic genre is prime territory for everything from religious exploitations to familial revenge to even the most justified of souls becoming corrupt by the world around them and Campos takes full advantage of the visual style and grimy locations to put audiences in the world. There’s a real authenticity to the production design and scout locations that acts as a brilliant step into the past but also clearly worked for the stars as they all seamlessly slip into their various characters with ease and beautifully bring them to life.

The individual stories themselves do kind of vary more in their compelling qualities, with some running far too short despite being one of the more interesting to watch while others either drag on too long or are broken up in an effort to balance everyone’s tales, but with the threat of a too-large ensemble overstuffing the film, Campos does a mostly solid job to balance them all. It’s clear from the get-go that the Russell lineage is going to be the main course while the rest of the roster are side dishes, but aside from two fairly underdeveloped threads, the side players get just as much interesting play as Arvin and Willard’s families that feature slightly different tones without losing the consistent dread permeating from the overarching story.

Even when some of the storytelling begins to betray the morally complex messages, the performances nonetheless keep every frame of this film moving in fascinating fashion, with a few of the most notable being Holland in a decidedly darker and more mature role than mainstream audiences will be used to from him and Pattinson as the corrupt and quietly sinister preacher. Despite his fresh face belying the horrors his character faced in his younger years, Holland taps into the cold and damaged persona of Arvin so powerfully that is sure to remind viewers he is one of the best young dramatic actors currently working in Hollywood.

Pattinson has done nothing but amazing work since shedding the ball and chain that was the Twilight series and while The Lighthouse might still remain as my personal favorite performance from the 34-year-old star, his turn as the evil Rev. Preston Teagardin is a close rival to it. While I wish he could’ve been given more screen time to build up his nice and caring façade before the pin dropped and we see his darker side, he still taps into this two-face persona with such raw force and quietly exuberant energy that every time he’s on scene the film instantly becomes 20 times better than it had been in the minutes prior to his arrival.

The Devil All The Time is such a breathtakingly directed and powerfully performed Southern Gothic delight that even when the film feels as if it’s jumping between stories in jarring fashion and revisiting familiar tropes, it remains a compelling and intelligent tale.

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