“The Devil All the Time,” directed by Antonio Campos, was released on Netflix on Sept. 16, 2020. The film centers around a young man overcoming pressures of mid-1900’s American society, including the oppressive nature of church and religion. The concept and characters make for an exciting experience, even if hindered by unexceptional design choices.
After fighting in World War II, Willard Russel (Bill Skarsgård) returns home with severe PTSD. Such trauma is spread onto his son Arvin Russel (Tom Holland), with Willard violently enforcing religious concepts onto Arvin. Now a teenager, Arvin becomes exposed to corruption within his town, including predatory Pastor Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson). Teagardin, along with numerous other dangerous individuals, provide obstacles in Arvin’s journey of self-discovery and resolving his past life.
Story is definitely the film’s strong point. Arvin’s experience was engaging to watch throughout the film’s duration, creating a dark and immersive “adventure.” Arvin’s characterization felt tremendously natural, with each of his scenes realistically developing his morals and later actions.
Holland’s performance also added plenty of value to Arvin’s character. Holland’s natural charisma builds him as a likable underdog, which is crucial for Arvin’s believability. In contrast, Pattinson superbly plays a wicked villain, utilizing his signature mischievous demeanor. Another notable performance was Harry Melling as Roy Laferty, unfortunately having rather little screen time.
Besides these three, the acting was mixed. Performances commonly ranged between acceptable and unintentionally humorous. The humorous line deliveries are particularly detrimental, as the film’s overall tone is notably serious. Unfortunately, questionable vocal delivery is likely a byproduct of an inconsistent script, with numerous scenes’ dialogue feeling stilted.
Cinematography gave the film a clean look, especially when displaying the interesting rural locations. The issue was little variation in terms of shot composition, filming angles, and overall creativity in a visual sense. There were many instances where the camera remained stagnant, alternating between shots of characters’ midsections while they talked. Such a safe presentation leads to attempts at tense scenes sometimes lacking energy and impact.
One aspect I did not care for at all was the narrator, who was overly present throughout the movie. I dislike when a narrator’s purpose becomes summarizing what the audience just watched. This became particularly annoying after intense scenes, where the narrator’s voice interrupts time for the audience to reflect on the impactful events. There were also moments where the narrator’s lines should’ve been said by an actual character. Without spoiling the story, one narrator line, if used by a specific character, would’ve made said character much more interesting.
The mid-1900’s America theme was done well. The costumes of characters were believable for the period, especially at the film’s high school settings. Classic cars and building decorations are always a pleasure within any timepiece film. The added music from the period was a personal favorite aspect of the theme. The songs added personality to the film, while being sparse enough to not be distracting.
The film is bizarrely edited. Scenes often end abruptly due to a sudden transition, rather than having the scene conclude naturally. Moments also occur when the shots seemingly should have taken place in a different order. For example, characters begin a conversation, then suddenly have one character showing physical changes made a whole scene earlier. Minor aspects, such as this, can still provide distractions from the actual film.
Overall, I give the film a 7 out of 10. Certain actors and a great story occasionally makes for exceptional moments. Yet, as a whole, questionable design choices diminish a lot of the film’s potential. Nevertheless, the film is certainly worth a casual viewing if you’re interested in dark, historical narratives.