Released: 11th September
Seen: 18th September
In 2011, the novel The Devil All the Time was released and was instantly showered with awards and praise. Written by Donald Ray Pollock as a follow up to his book Knockemstiff, it was a big enough hit that, inevitably, the rights to the book were bought and a film adaptation was announced way back in 2018. Well, now we are here two years later and what did they make? They made… a film. A film with two great performances that is a film, it’s not much more than that.
The Devil All the Time takes place in a little town in Ohio in the period between 1945 and 1965. The little town a very small religious area where everyone goes to church every Sunday and tries to live a godly life. It all starts with Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) coming home from the war and clearly being a little damaged, which he hides with a tough exterior. He tries to pass on that toughness to his son Arvin (Tom Holland) by teaching the younger man how to fight, thus starting the cycle of violence that will soon engulf the town. As time goes on new people turn upin town, including Reverend Preston (Robert Pattinson) who seems to take a liking to Arvin’s step-sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) and with every new person riding into town, the violence grows and grows.
The Devil All the Time is a hard story to try and summarize in a paragraph without giving away too much, because I’m sure a lot of people are like me and haven’t read the books but tuned in because this cast is fascinating and you want to be in shock. The film is definitely banking on that, it actually weaves three or four major stories together and keeps them apart for most of the film until the final sequence.
In my description I didn’t even bring up the pair of serial killers Carl (Jason Clark) and Sandy (Riley Keogh) who pop up occasionally to do some brutal sex murder stuff before going away for a bit more until they’re needed for the climax. I also didn’t bring up Sheriff Lee (Sebastian Stan) who has a connection to those killers and who also kind of pops up every now and then to do some naughty stuff and there’s a reason for that… in a book, these stories would blend in to give the world being created a richer texture but in a film, they felt superfluous as hell.
The part of The Devil All The Time that’s actually interesting is the story involving Alvin, his sister and the preacher. If you cut out everything that those three characters aren’t in, you’d have an hour and a half long movie and it would be a lot more tense and interesting because they’re where our interest genuinely falls. They are the main story, particularly Alvin who keeps fighting against the violent nature he seemingly inherited from his father and it eventually leads him to destruction. I found myself almost tuning out when it wasn’t one of those characters, the stuff with the serial killer couple felt like a different movie that was only needed to build to a secondary climax that we didn’t need.
The thing that makes The Devil All the Time worth watching is the joint performances by Holland and Pattinson. Holland delivers the performance of his career as a young man who has grown up surrounded by violence and has let it sink into his very soul. Every scene with him is just powerful and unnerving, from his quiet moments to the scenes where violence overwhelms his being and he lashes out.
The Devil All the Time is another big “What do the Marvel people do after Endgame?” movie for Tom, who most audiences have only gotten to really see as a teenage superhero (or a Rihanna impersonator) but this film is him showing what he can do and it’s just amazing. He is carrying this movie and I hope people are paying attention to this one so they can give him more hard edged roles like this.
Holland’s performance would probably be the most incredible performance in the entire film, but unfortunately Robert Pattinson exists and he is on a whole other level. His performance as a priest taking advantage of the young women in his parish is one of the most haunting and committed performances of the year. He’s such a lecherous creep and he only has a handful of scenes but he steals the whole damn movie.
The scene with the two of them together is honestly criminally short, I would’ve watched them back and forth for hours and been happy. Pattinson just steals the show, from the second he walks on camera until the moment the camera leaves him, you can’t stop staring at what he is doing because every choice is immaculate. It’s the kind of performance where you spend a good amount of time going “So is this the clip they’ll play during the Best Supporting Actor category?” because it’s that damn good.
If nothing else, you should watch The Devil All the Time just for those two performances. Everyone else is fine, it’s a bunch of southern accents yelling at each other and occasionally things happen. If it weren’t for those two lead performances this film wouldn’t work as well as it does, and you can confirm that by looking at any scene or storyline that doesn’t directly involve them.