The Devil all the Time review
The Devil all the Time is a slimy, nihilistic tale of how horrifying life can be
Be warned, there are spoilers for The Devil All The Time below.
The Devil All The Time released on Wednesday on Netflix and it made a surprisingly exciting mid-week watch. Starring big Hollywood names like Tom Holland (Spider-man: Far From Home), Bill Skarsgärd (IT: Chapter II), Robert Pattinson (Twilight) and Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), the mystery sets itself up for greatness, and it doesn’t disappoint.
But the real show-stopping performance came from somebody I didn’t initially recognise, and you probably wouldn’t at first glance either. Harry Melling, who some may know to have played Dudley Dursely, Harry Potter’s rotten and gluttonous cousin in the Harry Potter film series, stars as Roy Laferty, a larger than life preacher with so much passion, one would say too much as he pours a jar of live spiders over his face during a sermon to rid himself of fear. But fear is an important theme in The Devil all the Time, and it is often used by characters to project power over others. A perfect example of this type of behaviour is most evident in Pattinson’s portrayal of Reverend Preston Teagardin. From the onset of meeting him we discover he is irrefutably awful as he humiliates the Russell's for their poverty. He does it in such a roundabout way that he continues to look good in the eyes of the lord, and more importantly in the eyes of the church goers. Because this preacher is nothing but a master manipulator, there is no need for him to have much character backstory, and Pattinson gives a 10/10 performance bringing the character to life, decidedly better than his role as The Dauphin in The King (2019).
Major Spoilers below!
Unsurprising talents came from Tom Holland, who had already proved his compelling acting abilities from such a young age in the 2012 film Impossible, and again in the Spider-man franchise, but The Devil All The Time was certainly a new challenge for him, and he welcomed it. His character Arvin Russell faces plenty of hardships as a child, including the deaths of his mother, father and dog. But although these events introduce him to the horrors of life, it doesn’t lead him to the disruption some of the other characters possess. He stays as good a man as can be in Knockemstiff, Ohio, and from what his father taught him, he’s wary of everybody he meets, and that certainly plays to his advantage in some cases, but his inherent anxiety leads him to loneliness.
The book, written by Donald Ray Pollock, packs plenty more into it than the film’s two hour run time allows, but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the film as a standalone piece. Although it affects some of the characters back stories and character development, it allows the focus to stay on Arvin, a central character in the story arc that surrounding characters draw nearer and nearer to.
Skarsgard’s portrayal of Willard Russell, Arvin’s father, opens the film in probably the most graphic and disturbing imagery throughout the film as he passes a bloodily crucified body. Willard is forced to end the man’s suffering, reinforcing the difficult life decisions he must make, foreshadowing what’s to come. He perverts his faith in the lord to extremes in an effort to get his wife back, and in turn loses himself in the process. Arvin, by the end of the film comes to realise why his father acted the way he did, and the film ends on an ambiguous note, suggesting Arvin’s path has not yet been decided.
The Devil All The Time is a powerful story inspired by the authors’ experiences growing up in the town of Knockemstiff himself, and is essentially one of religious obsession, power and the grey areas of right and wrong.
With a little longer run time to give more background to serial killer team Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough), as well as corrupt Sheriff Lee Bodecker the film could have found its minuscule missing link.