Theo’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Devil All the Time is a story with tales as tall as the trees surrounding our story, intertwined and threaded together like the branches at the top. It’s about religion and the pain it causes, war and the trauma that comes after, small town mentalities causing small town problems and a hunt for vengeance. And it’s also one of my favourites from the year.
Antonio Campos - his last film Christine shook me to the core - crafts a ruthless and bleak look into lives of multiple groups of people, delving in thanklessly to the evil of our world. Rare you see films these days that are terribly unafraid and hellbent to shine a light so brutally on the sinfulness of humanity as well as the guilt so many people are overcome with, and Campos embraces it here with an end result that left me speechless.
Tom Holland truly is a wonder, bringing vulnerability and angst to his role of Arvin Russell, one minute seeming giant and the next tiny beside his peers. He doesn’t get an easy ride, his loved ones dropping off like flies around him. His family are devoted christians, going to church every Sunday, but Arvin is at a crossroads with his religion. After a life of being surrounded by God worshippers, his Dad to an extent beating Christianity into him, his belief has demised. What is there to believe in if all God has dealt him is death and poverty? Seeing people pour their heart and soul into this to no avail, contending with ‘demons’ blown out of proportion because of the heavy burden of God, and calling for answers but getting none. Holland’s layers are in abundance, his broken soul on display for everyone to see.
At the beginning the juggling of the stories may be slightly messy and jumbled, but it plays out to work in a eventful rhythm of its own. A feat from Campos is having so many characters all played by stars with bags of acting pecks, and utilising them all in a way that none feel like they’re dealt a poor hand or are being disregarded.
The cast all deliver on the promise made from that line-up. Bill Skarsgard shows he’s much more than just a scary clown playing Holland’s father, and Riley Keough - who’s story is arguably the grimmest of them all - is seductive but nuanced in her role. Majority of the actors here playing Americans are not American, ranging from the UK to Australia, which is a peculiar but what feels like intentional decision. Maybe the black comedic side of British and Australian films/actors is why due to this film’s blackest of black comedy. Regardless the accents are all faultless, each person making each character their own despite juggling between them all. To stand out amongst this crowd is difficult but they all manage it - each role has a purpose and is performed as such.
Robert Pattinson is a con man in Elvis cosplay doing his best nasty Elvis impression, warranting the eccentric performance he gives here. He’s all the slime and ickyness you could ask for as the repellent philandering preacher. I’ve heard some not-nice feedback re: Pattinson’s non-accent, but for a travelling preacher filled with deceit and lies, his accent being as bizarre and loose as it is only feels right. I love Pattinson a lot but felt a real urge to kick him in the teeth here.
A lot of criticism for this film stems from the lack of pace or humour, to which I am dumbfounded by. The wheels keep turning and never cease, the story spiralling constantly and brashly between each arc. Despite the bleakness I was heavily entertained. Back to the humour; a film this grim does not deserve or warrant any sort of humour, so it seems a peculiar gripe. Saying that, the looming shadow of Vietnam creeping up throughout gave me a chuckle. It’s like saying, think things are bad for you all now? They’re gonna get waaaay worse...obviously isn’t a funny subject but there’s humour in there - for me, anyway.
The film is cluttered with frauds, deceivers of all kinds, circling round the biggest of them all; religion. Most people here have an unhealthy devotion to their saviour - sacrifice being just one example of extreme worship - but as they all demise so does the fraudulent faith they rely on. The film does not criticise Christianity though, may be cynical about it but really the enemy here is the people and their despicable ways of being. The evil does not stem from the religion but the religious, manipulated to suit their needs or wants.
Narration from the author of the novel, Donald Ray Pollock, holds these stories together nicely. His soothing voice like a warm blanket over the miserable nature of the story. His last line, which ends the film on the last shot, took my breath away. To end on such a peaceful and calm note with a fragment of hope, after two hours of misery, is perfectly fitting. I had worried the ending would be tough to pull off while watching but it turned out to be one of the most striking endings i’ve seen in years. Felt like drifting off to sleep right along there with Arvin.