The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time ★★★

I am so late for this but for some pretty good reasons. One: average to mixed reviews. Two: I heard all of the movie hunks' weird accents in the trailer. Three: look at that runtime; it’s a Netflix movie over two hours. I was quite scared and hesitant to watch Antonio Campos’ The Devil All the Time but I did watch it earlier and it’s hard to find the words to properly describe it. But if I had to come up with something right now, it’s ‘borderline great but meh overall’.

The Devil All the Time, adapted from a novel written by Donald Ray Pollock, who interestingly yet unnecessarily enough serves as the narrator for this film, walks that line between a deeply-grabbing picture and a bland/mediocre one. All of this comes down to execution now. I haven’t read the book but I love stories about religion and its potentially-harmful constructs, but this one failed to stay with me for much of it.

Blind faith and religious fanaticism have always intrigued me. When I heard that the story of The Devil All the Time was to revolve around that idea, I was slowly taken into seeing it. But all that curiosity would dissipate after just the first few minutes. The timelines switching back-and-forth years before and after between different groups of characters was distracting and laborious while pushing the main themes aside for some time.
The story does flow better in the second half and all the remaining characters converge in the third act but it doesn’t make up for the trouble in the prior sections of the movie. The themes, while not as explicitly stated in the first, also do better in the second half.

The Devil All the Time is about sinners. It believes in evil that is inherited and learned through malpractice, violence, and abusive family influence. It reveals how rage feeds off rage in this small West Virginia town where organized religion might just as well be organized crime. I have a penchant for these kinds of narratives but the film’s mostly jumbled structure took me out of it. It’s there, the darkness and the power to challenge perceptions of religion, that I’m looking for in a film like this but the lackluster execution makes The Devil All the Time a lesser version of a film that it could’ve been.

The boys come together in this one and all of them deliver stunning acting performances. Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, Sebastian Stan, Harry Melling, and Jason Clarke show off their range—and funny accents—in this psychological thriller. The girls also put on equally stellar performances, with solid acting from Riley Keough, Eliza Scanlen, Haley Bennett, and Mia Wasikowska. The star-studded ensemble really did well and if there’s one thing that kept me watching, it’s their acting.

The cinematography was unexpectedly better than what I expected out of a small-town murder rampage story. The rural setting and the interesting time period come together quite nicely and the movie looks good in general. The violence was something that stood out, as part of the central themes of the story and as an agent of discomfort and shock.

The film took risks that worked out, though not in the fullest extent. I’d say The Devil All the Time is good but not really at the same time, if you can get that. It’s one of my weaker 3.5s this year. It’s got good things that narrowly outweigh the subpar things and I’m sure it may click better with other people. I had a decent time and I’m glad to check it off the watchlist.

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