“The Devil All The Time,” released on September 11 with the promise of a dark Midwestern Gothic tale told by a star-studded cast, including Bill Skarsgard, Sebastian Stan, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Tom Holland, and Robert Pattinson. What “The Devil All The Time” delivers is certainly dark, but lacking in quality story. The plot is structured around two generations of families in Southern Ohio and West Virginia, all tied together by Tom Holland’s Arvin Russel and, eventually, tragedy.
Arvin is a child born into a happiness that quickly becomes hardship as a result of his mother’s death and father’s corrupted view of religion. Following his father’s gruesome demise, he goes to live with his grandparents, where his defensiveness of his adopted sister causes trouble when a new less-than-trustworthy preacher, played by Robert Pattinson, comes to town.
Among the myriad of issues that unfortunately plague “The Devil All The Time” is its attempt to balance its adapted source material. It takes the “Magnolia” approach, trying over its 138 minute runtime to illustrate the lives and tragedies of its disparate characters, and how all of these threads ultimately connect through Arvin. However, many of these stories aren’t fleshed out enough to really fill the time they’re given and others simply aren’t given enough screen time. Sebastian Stan’s arc as a corrupt sheriff who wants to get out from under the thumb of a local bigwig comes to mind, as does much of the screen time of Jason Clarke and Riley Keough’s serial-killer couple. The film is at its strongest when facing the tragedies of the Russell family, which include just about every possible tragedy you can think of.
While “The Devil All The Time” is disorganized and many of its plotlines fall flat, it does have a few things working in its favor. For one, Tom Holland gives an exceptional performance as Arvin Russell, capturing the film’s mood of darkness brewing just below the surface. The face-off between himself and Robert Pattinson’s false preacher Reverend Teagardin is truly memorable, and as a fan of the midwestern gothic myself, the aesthetic is something to behold.
Much of what is flawed about director Antonio Campo’s feature is not the makings of a bad movie, rather, it’s the makings of a good movie fallen flat. For instance, one of the movie’s major themes is the way faith can lead to terrible deeds when corrupted, and how corrupt people can manipulate the faithful. Instances of this include Arvin’s father crucifying the family dog in hopes the sacrifice will save his wife from cancer; Rev. Teagardin’s predecessor murdering his wife with the belief that he can resurrect her; or Teagardin himself getting Arvin’s sister pregnant before denying the pregnancy under the assumption that his assault was a form of prayer between them (This is an extremely dark movie). However, this theme of faith and corruption never gets fully explored, instead often ending at the same surface-level violence that exemplifies it.
Perhaps that is the greatest criticism of the film that could be made: despite its runtime, it doesn’t seem to have enough time to explore what it sets out to. It is not so much a failure as it is disappointing, as one keeps hoping for the next murder or stroke of tragedy to poke at something deeper, but “The Devil All The Time” never really dives below the surface.
Art by Adam Dee.