The Devil All The Time movie director: Antonio Campos
The Devil All The Time movie cast: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgard, Stan Sebastian
The Devil All The Time movie rating: Two and a half stars
The Devil All The Time is an alternate universe where Spider-Man, Batman and the Winter Soldier have all converged. And they are all battling — not a common enemy, or even each other — but the darkness within.
Actors who play superheroes, or characters based on comic books and literature, have to work extra hard to shed that character. Till today, Daniel Radcliffe is synonymous with Harry Potter, but thankfully, Emma Watson was able to shed her Hermione tag with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The Devil All The Time does the same for Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson and Stan Sebastian, all in a single masterstroke of casting. The film has made them shed their superhero capes, and it will be a struggle to see them as superheroes again. This is where the Antonio Campos feature succeeds. It’s guaranteed that you will take at least ten minutes into watching The Batman, when it releases next year, to adjust to Pattinson being the billionaire superhero. Tom Holland will no longer be the kid who stumbled his way to being Spider-Man, instead, after watching this film, you will think of him as a man capable of some dark deeds, as perhaps most men are.
The two-hour-twenty-minutes long film, which streams on Netflix, is based on the Donald Ray Pollock novel of the same name. It is uncomfortable and grim. The soothing voice-over, a rarely used device, by the writer Pollock does nothing to assuage the bleak tone of the film.
The Devil All The Time oscillates between West Virginia and Ohio, and is set in the period between World War 2 and the Vietnam war. We meet Willard Russell — Bill Skarsgard not giving away any trace of his Swedish ancestry and upbringing — who has come back from the War, and is keen to settle down with Charlotte, a pretty waitress. They settle into domesticity, have a son, and all is fine on the surface. Willard has seen things in the war, and the one sight of his fellow soldier being crucified on a wooden cross with the body mutilated, and flies eating it, has stayed with him. He makes a cross out of a bowed out tree in the backyard and starts praying there.
We see a deep-rooted connection between religiosity and violence in the first half-hour itself; how too deep a belief can be manoeuvred to justify extreme acts of violence. Willard kills his son Arvin’s (Tom Holland) dog, with his hands, and the feeling that was bubbling at the back of our heads, finally occurs.
A series of unfortunate incidents lead Arvin to live with his ageing grandmother, and a ‘step sister’ Lenora in West Virginia. Cut to seven years, and we see a grown-up Arvin — Tom Holland, with his perfect Southern accent and stylish way of smoking. He is now the man of the house taking care of things including driving his step-sister around and protecting her from school bullies, who think her pious Christian nature makes her fair game. Enter a new preacher, Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), who is young and wears ruffled shirts and has a proclivity for fancy cars. Pattinson, with his side flicked hair, and an oozing, devilish malice will make you wrap your jacket in this heat more snugly. He also has a thing for unassuming teenaged girls. One can predict what happens next.
The Devil All The Time, is like a banyan tree, where religiosity is the root of everything and it expands out through violent acts. But the overall sense of foreboding is not edge-of-the-seat kind and at the end leaves you drained. There are many subplots, and all roads lead back to Knockemstiff, the small town where Willard set up his home, and we zero back on Sheriff Bodecker (Sebastian, sufficiently heavy and rounded up to justify a corrupt middle-aged lawman, with many secrets of his own). Bodecker had helped out Arvin on one fateful night, and fate brings them face to face again.
The only thing that makes one sit through this period piece is the performances. The A-list heavy ensemble cast makes everything believable. If nothing else, watch for the showdown scene between Holland and Pattinson set in a church. This one is for the books.
The Devil All The Time is streaming on Netflix.