Cooped up at the Hyatt in the midst of Quarantine, I decided to watch Antonio Campos’ deeply intense psychological thriller, and directorial debut, The Devil All the Time, an adaption of Donald Ray Pollock’s book by the same name. This new Netflix release is filled with star-studded performances from Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, Kristin Griffith, and Donald Ray Pollock himself as the narrator. This film’s runtime is 138 minutes and not an experience for the squeamish.
Strap in as we meet the corrupt and sinister characters of the small and not-so-innocent town of Knockemstiff, Ohio during the Vietnam war. The film has a rocky start as we jump back and forth in time establishing and meeting various characters. But the story truly begins when Willard (Bill Skarsgård) takes his wife Charlotte (Haley Bennett) from Coal River, Virginia to Knockemstiff to raise a son. Their son, Arvin (played by both Tom Holland and Michael Banks Repata) does not have the innocent childhood he would have hoped for. Willard, a Vietnam War veteran with a nasty case of PTSD, is not the model father; when the family loses Charlotte to cancer, he takes his own life. Arvin is left to be raised by his grandmother, Emma (Kristin Griffith), a soft, kind, God Fearing woman. Arvin grows up with a pent-up rage taught to him by his father; he learned to hit back and hit back hard.
Armed with this mindset, Arvin must make his way in a town full of liars, criminals, and murderers. However, these aren’t your typical antagonist criminals; the residents of quiet little Coal Creek are a different breed of terrifying. We meet Carl (Jason Clarke), a photographer who partners up with the charming, seductive, but far from innocent, Sandy (Riley Keough). What exactly do they partner up for, one may ask? They pick up young male hitchhikers, using them as “models” as Sandy baits them into intercourse which Carl photographs until he proceeds to murder the victims… yeah, it’s not fun to watch. Oh – and he photographs the murders.
Next on the list of rogues, is Deputy Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan) and older brother to the not-so-lovely Sandy. He’s your typical corrupt sheriff– very corrupt. Stan showcases an electrifying performance of a man drowning in self-pity, alcoholism, greed, and a dangerous thirst for power.
Finally, there is Rev. Preston Teagarden (Robert Pattinson), the town’s new young priest on the block. Don’t be fooled by his title; Pattinson’s character is a manipulative, gluttonous, pervert who goads teenage girls into sex. Like I said above, this film is not for the faint-hearted, or the impatient, as this is quite the slow burn. However, this is not just a gorefest that shows violence for the sake of violence, it is an intergenerational exploration of the impact of childhood trauma, as well as the immoral actions people take while justifying themselves with a twisted version of faith. If you’re looking for a quick light watch, this isn’t for you. If you’re a Tom Holland fanboy/girl, be warned, this is not your friendly neighborhood Spiderman, and don’t go in expecting Edward from Twilight either because Robert Pattinson’s Teagarden is far scarier than a shirtless emo vampire.
This is a film that makes you think and focus. By the time the credits rolled through, I felt the urge to take a shower because the amount of sheer human evil in this film is overwhelming at times and will stay with you as your head hits the pillow that night. It was 30 minutes too long and unnecessarily violent at times, but the performances save the film. Tom Holland pulls off an anti-hero we can root for with his underplayed portrayal of Arvin. Both Jason Clarke and Riley Keough knock it out of the park as the terrifying serial killing couple, and once again, I praise Sebastian Stan for his performance as well. Some other honorable mentions are Harry Melling’s portrayal of Roy, the insane religious fanatic, and Kristin Griffith’s Emma, as the caring grandmother. Perhaps my biggest takeaway from the movie: “They’s a lot of no-good sonofabitches out there,” (Donald Ray Pollock).
Cover photo: NPR