This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
la rogue’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
It's hard to live a good life...It seems like the Devil don't ever let up.
The Devil All The Time. A title so alluring, so mysterious, so intriguing. What does it mean to "Devil All The Time" is the question I posed on first hearing its title. Hoping that this film would make sense and justify the usage of such a mysterious title, I was grateful to find that it does much more to justify said title but offers a melancholy character study of darkness and malevolence.
For a bit of context, I was immediately intrigued with this film on learning that it was not only a character study of dark gothic characters but also an introspective look into religion, faith, trauma, aggression, and violence. As I've stated a million times now I live in Texas, statistically it is one of the most conservative and Christian states in the United States. Now we may not be as bad as say Alabama or Mississippi (thanks to places like Austin and Houston), but there are parts of Texas that are as if they have been untouched by time and remain stuck in America's Confederate time period. I have been to many of these places like Waco, Abilene, Bastrop, Killeen, Tyler, and Wharton. Places where the KKK, white supremacists, white nationalists, religious bible thumpers, and poverty are virtually inescapable. So a film like The Devil All The Time hits closer to me because I know places like this I have seen them with my own eyes and it is as if these people live in their own little world untouched by the outside world. People disappear without a trace with no one knowing what happened to them. Could be murder, sex trafficking, some weird occult ritual, or even suicide - but you will never know. What the townspeople do is pray, and they urge you to pray endlessly that God protects these people that disappear and hopefully god will protect your soul from facing such a faith. When i started my first genuine semester at University in Waco TX the first thing I was given was a a black book coated in rugged leather that smelled of sea salt with the words plastered in gold "Holy Bible". I was told by my chapel advisor "whenever you feel like you need help, you go to him and ask him for help. God will always be by your side." A few suicide attempts later, unending trauma, and hopelessness coupled with loneliness it's never seemed like God has ever given a shit about me, and yet to this day I have that very same bible given to me from my chapel advisor and I keep it. Not because I'm religious or because I could ever see myself going to god (I'm an atheist) but because it's apart of me and it was a moment that shaped my life.
I'm sure if you read all of that you might think "what does any of that have to do with The Devil All The Time?" I'll get to that in the end. The film itself though is a true knockout. This was my first film I've seen by Antonio Campos and man is this guy one hell of a director. I don't usually like narration in films but Campos knows exactly when to use the narration while in other scenes letting the score or the film's bizarre visuals guide the film's narrative. The phrase bizarre visuals is an understatement when speaking about The Devil All The Time. The Devil All The Time has shots of visual tranquility in lush fields of vegetation that beam with radiant sunlight, or the quiet stillness of the cemetery near the church, or even virgin pure white painted walls of the holy and devout church. In its more provocative shots The Devil All The Time is completely vomit inducing. It has been awhile since I've seen a film that was this gratuitous and this sinister, the visuals in this film were so gruesome and damn near traumatizing I don't think I will ever forget them. I hate to spoil anything but there's a castration shown in graphic detail that had me shaken to my core. Castration is only just the tip of the iceberg and with each act of cruelty Campos captures every second in grueling detail. The direction and screenplay are just so seamless from Antonio Campos and his crew that I'm dying to see what he does next. He emulates the Coen brothers big time with this film. The score wasn't extremely noticeable because there's a lot of talking and narration but in the moments when it's just the score it's a pretty good score I quite liked it. I didn't pick up on any editing mistakes and for a movie that runs for 2 hours and 20 mins it goes by pretty fast so good job in that department.
Of course though with this film the only thing more interesting than the story itself is the cast. Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Haley Bennet, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Harry Melling, and the one and only Robert Pattinson. Goddamn! The fact that all of these actors are onscreen for 2 hours in itself is reason enough to watch this. I would usually argue that an ensemble cast is not a huge factor in a film but the talent here is so impeccable it is as if these actors are fighting to see who can come out on top. Think of a screaming match between the likes of Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Florence Welch, Adele, Lady Gaga, and Christina Aguilera - that is The Devil All The Time. So how does the cast do? Well as you'd except practically everyone here is stunning, except a few. Jason Clarke is fine here as his typically crazy nutty weird probably never showers typecasted role that we've seen him in many times. Sebastian Stan is ok, I mean he tries so B for effort. Harry Melling is actually quite exceptional as a deranged psychotic preacher. I have yet to see Mia Wasikowska give a bad performance no matter how good or bad a film is, so she's a legend that never lets me down! Eliza Scalen is really good. Haley Bennett is remarkable giving one of the more emotional and whimsical performances of the film. Riley Keough is one of the best working actresses today and she has some of the most shocking and best scenes in the entire film and yes her accent from American Honey and Logan Lucky is back here so we now have a "Country bumpkin Riley Keough" trilogy. Bill Skarsgård gives what is one of the best performances of the year and I don't know how a man that seems so sweet and is that beautiful can be as horrifying as he is, yet he delivers the stuff of nightmares in his role. I am extremely embarrassed to admit that by far in my opinion the worst performance is Robert Pattinson. I love Pattinson to death and I would do anything he asked of me but he was miscasted here. His accent was pretty off and in many scenes he was "overacting". He really just does a lot of screaming and yelling in a high pitched voice so I am not sure who started the rumor he's a "scene stealer" when that's Riley Keough and Bill Skarsgård. And finally on to the star of the film; Tom Holland. Tom Holland is one of my favorite people on earth for a variety of reasons but we're not gonna get into that! Nonetheless Tom Holland gives what is in my honest opinion the best performance of the year. He adds a level of complexity to this emotionally wounded young boy struggling with aggression and trauma that is so nuanced and so restrained I was in disbelief. Tom goes to dark places within this role mentally, emotionally, and physically that only a real genuine talent could bring to the screen in the way he does. There are multiple scenes in this film, one in particular where Arvin is so afraid and so scared and you can actually feel the tension, uncertainty, and fear coming off Holland. I truly believe every actor in Hollywood needs to watch out because Holland has the acting chops to not only be a future Oscar winner, but one of the greatest of his generation.
Back to the question of "what does the title Devil All The Time mean?" And my excerpt with background context. I believe The Devil All The Time is a coming of age story but in the most idiosyncratic rural southern way possible. There's a quote in the film that goes "some people were born just so they could be buried". It is one of the quintessential lines in the film. Throughout The Devil All The Time we are met with these people who are in many ways unlucky and fortuned with destruction. Will's mother pleads to him that he must pray and follow gods light or he will be cursed and so will his family, and shockingly enough it actually happens. One decision interweaves a timeline of horrific events one after another. This concept is once again brought to fruition when Lenora questions how strange it is that her and Arvin both lost their parents and now they're orphaned together. It's quite stomach turning when you realize just how that one decision leads to this happening. And still in the end this even ties back to other characters who we see from the timeline of these events. One unlucky decision creates an entire chain reaction. That in essence is how darkness works it is like a virus that spreads throughout the body unable of being cleansed. We cling to religion, love, sex, and our families praying to shield us from these dark realities to protect us from the demons that plague our minds and our lives - but some fates are inevitable. It's a continuous problem here within the South to try and drown out our own darkness with more darkness. We judge the sinner by their sin and only seem to react to said sin with more sin. It's a never ending cycle that humanity is committed to, it is self destruction in the most profound sense. We have seen themes like this explored in films like Hereditary and Annihilation, Hereditary using the occult and Satanism while Annihilation using the metaphor of cancer and mental illness. The Devil All The Time is not a film about the perils of religion, religion itself can not be bad if it can not operate on its own - it is the very people that turn something bad. Then comes the question old as time "what is bad and what is good?" It's an idea that we see in our entertainment, in our subjective tastes such as art or music, and our politics. Every day we are battling with this idea of good and evil and we each think or hope that what we are doing is right in order to get us closer towards virtue. But there can be no good without evil and that is why we must face evil on a constant basis. Because The Devil truly is with us all the time. "If you believe in God then you must believe in the devil" is a quote that has stuck with me for years now, and in context with this film it makes so much sense.
The Devil All The Time is in my genuine opinion one of the best films of the year. The performances are absolutely jaw dropping with the likes of Tom Holland, Riley Keough, and Bill Skarsgård delivering multifaceted and complex character studies. The characters are so interesting that you can actually do an entire character analysis on each of these characters and how they play into gender roles, poverty, mental illness, and abuse of power. (Maybe that's something I can do in the future on rewatch) The direction and all of its technical aspects are simply stunning. The mythos and philosophy of religion and other vices as a way of coping in a world so full of darkness and horror is by far the most interesting motif I have seen in a film all year especially from a psychological standpoint. Many people will not like The Devil All The Time simply because of how divisive it is. It's a guttural scream into a void of darkness plagued by its own vindictive visuals and themes. The most divisive film I've seen since Darren Aronofsky's mother!; The Devil All The Time is a blood soaked nightmare hellbent on assaulting its viewer through gratuitous violence, graphic suicides, religious zealots, and pure evil. The Devil All The Time will leave you begging to be cleansed of the sins you have witnessed.