Based on a novel of the same title by Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time (2020), directed by Antonio Campus, is the latest thriller film we have been waiting for. Based in rural America, starting from the end of World War II, the film touches on many difficult topics such as suicide, gender oppression, cancer, sexual assault, and toxic religion. It also managed to score many talented and top-billing actors to grace its screen. With satisfying acting performances, visually appealing cinematography and a well-written narrative, The Devil All the Time seems to have all the right ingredients for a chaotic psychological melodrama.
Right off the bat, it is hard to not mention the stellar performances given by the cast. The cast of The Devil All the Time has a good mix of renowned and recognizable faces and lesser known actors. Even the author of the source novel plays the narrator throughout the film. The cast includes Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson. Campos himself talked about how he likes to cast against type, which worked well for Tom Holland, who plays the title role. Previously known for his role as Spider-Man from the Marvel franchise, he is also joined by former Marvel veterans such as Sebastian Stan from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Spider-Man: Far from Home co-star Jake Gyllenhaal as the film producer. Another notable star of the film would be Robert Pattinson, playing Reverend Preston Teagardin, who is set to star in The Batman (2022) and is known for his roles in The Lighthouse (2019) and the Twilight Saga (2008-2012). Both Pattinson and Holland were praised for their performances and many were impressed with their Southern accents, with Pattinson refusing to work with a dialect coach, hiding his accent from the director until they started filming. Other notable cast members such as Bill Skarsgård most recently played horror villain Pennywise from It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019), along with Mia Wasikowska known for her title role in Alice in Wonderland (2010) and its 2016 sequel, along with Jane Eyre (2011) and Crimson Peak (2015).
The Devil All the Time follows the story of Arvin Russell (Holland), a violent young man with a strong moral compass and desire to protect his loved ones. Set in rural towns of Southern Ohio and West Virginia, the film is filled with sinister characters with its timeline ranging from the 1940s to 1960s. The film starts off with a PTSD-suffering war veteran who struggles with his wife’s cancer diagnosis. The beginning is filled with warnings of the dangers of extreme religion, going as far as to feature human and animal crucifixion. Besides that, the film follows the storyline of a serial-killer husband and wife duo (Riley Keough and Jason Clarke) who go around picking up hitchhikers and killing them. Somehow, they have been able to evade the law due to a mysterious connection to the local police. There is also a preacher (Harry Melling) who dreams of handling the power of God in his hands and a reverend (Pattinson) who preys on underaged girls. Caught in between all of this mess is Arvin Russell, who personally had to deal with all his generational trauma, that causes him to become a good-hearted yet violent kid, and the film eventually becomes a short revenge tale for him.
Antonio Campos cowrote the screenplay of The Devil All the Time with his brother Paulo Campos. It is not Campos’ first time directing a film in relation to the theme of loneliness and/or isolation. Similar to The Devil All the Time, his previous films Afterschool (2008), Simon Killer (2012), and Christine (2016) have common self-destructive and isolated main characters. In his film repertoire, Campos has created his own visual style using architecture, wide shots, frame balance, and close-ups with shallow depth of frame to help emphasize the segregation of its characters from reality or other characters. The editing of the film is done by Campos’ wife and Jake Gyllenhaal, who served as an executive producer.
With its shocking and violent moments, we see that there is no one spared from sin in this film. Everyone was an antagonist and even Holland’s character did many bad things in his own right. With such a diverse array of characters and storylines to follow, it would’ve been easy to go wrong, but Campos did a decent job in interweaving them all together. The Devil All the Time reminds me of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) with how everything connected at the end, minus the title cards, humor, and Tarantino’s dialogue-writing wit. With its appealing cinematography, star-studded cast and violence-filled storyline, it is a good mix for a psychological crime melodrama.