Sept 25, 2020 | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Jubilee Rivera-Hernandez
When sitting down to write this review, I had to look at my notes to remind myself of the title of the film. “All Hell All the Time?” “All the Devil Every Time?” Nope, the title of Antonio Campos’s 2020 film is “The Devil All the Time,” an enigmatic phrase truly apt to describe the evil deeply present within each character of the film.
The film showcases a particular evil that is tough to watch. Campos might claim that it is a disturbing reality not only of the film’s world, but one of our own. Like its title, “The Devil All the Time” will make you sit and ponder for a while.
The story is dense, at first focusing on ex-Marine Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), then jumping from his return home from World War II to his son Arvin’s (Tom Holland) quest for revenge after the pastor of his local church (Robert Pattinson) is caught doing some heinous atrocities. Sebastian Stan reunites with Holland, playing a sleazy sheriff who’ll do anything he can to get reelected. To top it off, a serial killer couple drives around the Knockemstiff, Ohio area — the film’s setting — committing bizarre murders along their route. Make sure you’re stocked up on soap: you’ll want to head to the shower after watching this disturbing movie.
The narrative structure clumsily meanders through a deceptively charming rural America, a clumsiness one might attribute to the abundance of characters and timelines featured in the film. Campos dedicates a lot of screen time to each main character, and there are a lot of main characters. This might have been easier to do in the novel the film is based on (written by Donald Ray Pollock), but when translated to the medium of film, screenwriters must take great care when deciding what to cut and what to keep in an adaptation. Antonio Campos, together with his brother and writing partner, Paulo Campos, keeps too much in his film, choosing to include several unnecessary details in the plot.
Being such a major theme, I wish the onscreen violence was explored more thoroughly in “The Devil All the Time.” Whatever Campos is saying by including such horrific acts of violence is lost beyond the claim of small towns being more sinister than meets the eye. I think this is a movie that wants to say more but fails to do so while struggling to carry a hefty plot.
This inability to say more about rich subject matter carries over with the presence of Christianity within the film. While the film contains its share of nasty pastors, they are not the only heinous characters within the film, so it is unclear whether or not the religion of each character is to blame for their atrocities. Unless the central message is a broad “all religion is bad,” you’ll be hard-pressed to find any deeper commentary on Christianity in “The Devil All the Time.”
Aside from a great performance from Tom Holland, there are not many appealing aspects in “The Devil All the Time.” Frequent oldie needle drops clutter the audio, a voice-over from the novel’s author gives us too much unnecessary information, and the structure (and thus pacing) do not make this an easy watch. At least this Netflix movie is easy to stream (but only watch if you have a sturdy stomach).