Fresh off the heels of international Spider-Man stardom, Tom Holland and a troop of blockbuster regulars bring us a grim new thriller set a little too close to home in “The Devil All the Time.”
Directed by Antonio Campos, “The Devil All the Time” is a tale about a twisted dark web of corrupt, violent and evil characters that spans from the islands of the South Pacific to the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. The film released Wednesday on Netflix. At the center of this grim drama of ghouls and foul deeds lies a young man named Arvin Russell (Holland) who tries to protect his family from sinister forces at work in and around the very real backwoods town of Knockemstiff, Ohio.
The film is set between 1945 and 1965 and is based on the 2011 novel of the same title by Knockemstiff native Donald Ray Pollock. The dark narrative follows Russell’s tragic life and how it intersects with all manner of wicked folk — ranging from corrupt cops to deranged preachers — while exploring themes of guilt, loss, trauma and evil.
The film is acted brilliantly by a veteran cast including Robert Pattinson as Rev. Preston Teagardin, Sebastian Stan as Sheriff Lee Bodecker and Jason Clarke as Carl Henderson, to name a few. This formidable crew of actors is topped off by an endearing lead performance by Holland. Playing a tortured young man in the throes of evil and brutality, he convincingly sold the emotional investment to me and made me empathize with his battle against the cruel world he lives in.
Every performer carries their weight in what could be considered a masterclass of character acting. The creative and at times heart-wrenching performances of every actor on the screen is by far the film’s greatest strength.
The film is also cinematographically gorgeous, with a score of beautiful shots that highlight the woody backroads and vibrant scenery of little-explored but captivating Ohio and West Virginia woodlands.
The time period and setting is richly explored and is almost its own character, highlighted by the music, accents and set pieces of a county town forgotten by the rest of a bustling post-war America.
This film is not for the faint of heart. It is an unrelenting flood of gruesome violence and disturbing imagery. From the start of the film, the events are laced with tragedy and misanthropy, almost to the point of gratuity. This had a wearying and almost exhausting effect on me, as there is almost no break from misfortune and calamity.
The film falters in that it offers no shortage of evil acts but shows little desire to explore why they are done. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the depths of human evil, but delves little into the psyche and motivation of the ghoulish players featured throughout. This left me feeling unsatisfied, especially after a hefty runtime of 2 hours and 38 minutes.
Overall, the film certainly leaves an impression. Soaked in darkly memorable and religiously motivated imagery, the new film “The Devil All the Time” is filled to the brim with unforgettable performances, haunting narratives and stunning shots and locales. Despite its sometimes excessive use of violence, Netflix’s newest thriller does not disappoint and is certainly worthy of a stream as cool autumn winds rise and Halloween approaches.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the Appalachian Mountains as the Catskill Mountains. The story has since been corrected.