The Devil All the Time Review: Netflix’s newest film is a sinister Southern epic
Netflix’s newest film from writer/director Antonio Campos, The Devil All the Time, takes viewers through a multi-layered Southern epic filled to the brim with shady characters and tests of faith.
Set in small towns in West Virginia and Ohio between WWII and the Vietnam War, the film follows a group of sinister characters that become connected to a young man named Arvin (Tom Holland) – who defends the ones he loves at any cost. With a rough religious upbringing and having faced some traumatic instances with his parents, Arvin has been to fight The Devil all the time and recognize the corrupt forces around him. So, when he becomes intertwined with the stories of a corrupt sheriff (Sebastian Stan), a manipulative preacher (Robert Pattinson), and a serial killer couple, he’s met with insurmountable odds as his world is slowly consumed by sinister forces.
With so many big names and major characters, there’s an immediate worry that someone is going to get the short end of the stick and not see as much development or screen time. However, that doesn’t really happen here, aside from maybe Bennett, as this Campos does a great job creating a sense of flow and planting seeds within the story. A lot of times, he’ll hint at a character or characters that will become prevalent or more fleshed out down the line and it creates this great foreshadowing of their greater role within the story. For instance, just as Arvin’s parents, Willard (Bill Skarsgard) and Charlotte (Haley Bennett), are meeting for the first time, we also see serial killer couple Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough) meet as well. It creates this great interconnectivity and history within Arvin’s character and makes the moments where worlds start to collide more intriguing and impactful.
While Arvin’s story of fighting the sinister and evil presences that bleed into his life is easily the major driving force, the other stories that come into play really add to Arvin’s personality and arc as they embody the darkness and horrors that he’s devoted to fight against. From seeing Carl and Sandy’s murder spree to Pattinson’s Reverend Preston Teagardin’s sermons and time with underage girls, there’s no doubt that regardless how much good Arvin tries to do, he’s truly fighting The Devil all the time. The opening is especially great as it delves into Willard’s devotion to his own religious views and the imprint he left on Arvin – which is something that he grapples with throughout the film.
As much as Arvin’s story is about ridding the evil and corruption that’s constantly surrounding him and hurting those close to him, it’s also about him facing his father. Although his father is long gone by the time that Arvin grows up, there’re plenty of instances where he sees him slowly turning into his father no matter how hard he tries to fight it or do something different. When he’s violently defending someone close to him or anywhere near a church, there’re shades of his father that come out and play into a universal fear of turning into your parents and making the same choices/mistakes that they made. It’s honestly what makes Arvin’s journey so relatable and thrilling to watch as he faces the sins of his family and questions his own legacy in the process. The final moments of the film encapsulate this perfectly and offers a fitting end to Arvin’s journey that’s incredibly satisfying.
Arvin’s journey is made even more awesome because Holland puts in a career best performance that makes him into a total badass. Personally, I’ve been itching to see Holland break his Peter Parker mold and he definitely does that here. The second he’s on-screen you can feel this quiet toughness to him that makes him a daunting presence when it’s unleashed. Arvin is the type of person that knows what he’s doing is right and will do what he has to do make things right – regardless what it might cost him. It’s easy for a character like this to come off emotionless, but Holland adds this deeply human element to him that makes Arvin so easy to gravitate to as an unexpected badass. With the thought of becoming his father looming in the back of his head, Holland brings out Arvin’s fears every step of the way and gives viewers a broken protagonist they root to see whole again.
Outside of Holland, Pattinson and Skarsgard also make an incredible mark on this film. Pattinson really chews up the scenery as a despicable and villainous false prophet. Every time he’s on-screen it’s hard not to just instantly focus on him as he has his strange charm and allure to him that sucks you right in. He’s truly one manipulative bastard that makes your stomach turn and instantly cheer when he wrongs Arvin because you know he’ll given him his just desserts. Not to mention, the accent that Pattinson provides is hard not to love and is just another amazing addition to his arsenal of accents. Skarsgard’s performance is also very top tier for him as it’s not only nice to see him without having to wear any clown makeup, but also showcase how war can scar people. Just as Holland shows how Arvin was shaped by his father, Skarsgard shows how Willard was shaped by the horrors he faced during the war and it’s something that’s both oddly comforting at times when he’s with a young Arvin and disturbing as hell when we see how tragedy causes a mental break for him. It’s actually strange to me how Skarsgard isn’t being talked about in this film but make no mistake he’s awesome.
Truthfully, there’s no weak performance to find here as Campos helps create a Southern epic with a sinister nature. Like I said before, the characters are incredibly detailed, fleshed out, and carry such a strong personality that make them instantly memorable and he really utilizes this vastly talented cast well. The film is almost Tarantino-like with its storytelling and once it gets you on its hook, it’s hard to get off of it. Not to mention, the score Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans really evokes the perfect mix of John Denver music and a backwoods thriller. The best thing that Campos brings is the narration as it perfectly acts as the glue between character transitions and adds emotion to inner thoughts. It’s also done by Donald Ray Pollack, the author of the book that the film is based on, which is really awesome and a nice acknowledgement to the creator of the source material.
The Devil All the Time is the perfect kind of intense, star-studded, and intriguing thriller that keeps you hooked from start to finish. It’s certainly a promising and deserving, in my opinion, awards contender with a great chance to see Holland and Pattinson earn some recognition. Any Netflix users out there looking to sink their teeth and time into a superbly sinister Southern tale of faith, corruption, and depravity NEEDS to check this out.