Netflix’s first big fall release features the stories of two generations of families in post-war Ohio. Besides a couple of engaging performances, the film offers nothing but a bleak ride in a twisted town.
“The Devil All the Time” is directed and co-written by Antonio Campos. It is adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name authored by Donald Ray Pollock, who also serves as the film’s narrator. The story follows interconnected stories of violence, religion and suffering in a small town during two decades after WWII.
The cast includes recognizable faces, including Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan and Mia Wasikowska.
Of the three lead performances, it is Holland’s that goes the furthest. Skarsgård and Keough do well as a hyper-religious veteran and an alluring sadist, respectively. Holland’s Arvin, who lives a traumatic childhood and is determined to protect his family, is the closest thing this story has to a hero.
Pattinson, who has been one of the most celebrated actors of the past couple years, delivers a stand-out albeit short performance as the impassioned Rev. Preston Teagardin. While everyone in town speaks with the same dialect, it is Teagardin who provides color to the dialogue. Pattinson did not utilize a dialect coach, nor did he reveal the accent to anyone until the cameras rolled his first day on set. This approach to differentiating his character from the rest of the pawns in the hellscape of a town was successful.
Unfortunately, that’s all the elaboration available for this ensemble. The audience never sees who these characters are outside their respective cat/mouse relationships. Every detail of these characters’ lives are revealed only to serve their villain/victim status. This story may have worked as a miniseries, but as a 138 minute movie? It is just too crowded.
The tone of “The Devil All the Time” is just as what the title promises – relentlessly grim. Dark does not by any means equal unenjoyable. However, when every member of the principal cast endures scarring scenario after scarring scenario, the art gets muddled. There are no breaths, no purpose and no lasting entertainment. When the movie begins in a grim place, the only successful way to go is up. This film goes sideways for a long while and dips even further beneath the surface of the audience’s pain tolerance.
“The Devil All the Time” is nothing more than people preaching about righteousness while committing despicable acts of ultrarealistic violence. At one point, Sebastion Stan’s character says, “some people were born just so they could be buried.” It seems “The Devil All the Time” was made just so it could be grimaced at and forgotten about.