Movie Review: “The Devil All the Time”

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A still from Netflix film “The Devil All the Time”

Frequently described as gothic noir, “The Devil All the Time,” Antonio Campos’ new film based on Donald Ray Pollock’s novel of the same name, is now streaming on Netflix. The film examines themes of religion, evil and the abuse of power in a rural southern town in Ohio called Knockemstiff and includes many twists, betrayals and acts of violence. 

“The Devil All the Time” follows the narrated events and dark fates of several characters with their lives converging throughout. We watch as Arvin (Tom Holland) fights through each of his setbacks while still trying to fight against the damage from the trauma of the past. The other characters including a charismatic evangelical preacher, a corrupt local sheriff and a devious married couple complicate the storylines, throwing in their own twists by their actions. 

After watching the trailer for the first time, I was blown away by just how dark this film looked, and I was excited. I’ve always enjoyed morally gray characters and a good plot twist here and there. Not to mention, the accents and some of the quotes on full display caught my attention immediately. But after watching, I would say: the movie was good, but don’t expect it to be your next favorite that makes you think for days afterward. 

If you’re looking for a thriller, as this movie has sometimes been categorized, this wouldn’t be the movie I recommend. The storyline felt like it stayed on the surface of what it was capable of, and it was a little choppy in places. The film begins with several storylines and continues to add morally gray characters as it goes. The underlying themes are apparent throughout the entire film, especially the manipulative aspect of organized religion. While I knew I signed up for a violent, twisting story, I was left a little disappointed. It was enjoyable throughout. After a while, though, it wasn’t as complex as I had expected but more of a character study – which I did thoroughly enjoy. 

While the film has been gaining some hype as Netflix’s newest thriller it has also been gaining attention for the ensemble cast. The film is chock full of familiar faces with Tom Holland, known for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and Robert Pattinson, known for “Twilight,” at the front of the action. Their performances are backed by the likes of Sebastian Stan, from “Captain America,” Bill Skarsgård from “It,” Riley Keough from “Mad Max: Fury Road,” Jason Clarke from “Zero Dark Thirty”, Mia Wasikowska from “Alice in Wonderland,” Eliza Scanlen from “Little Women” and Haley Bennett from “The Girl on the Train.” There is no doubt the acting was the standout point of the film with Holland and Pattinson showcasing amazing talent not only with their physical work but with their dedication to deep southern accents – my personal favorite part of the film.

But other than the acting and the characters, what reason is there to watch this film? Well, visually, it was beautiful. Shot on 35 mm film, cinematographer Lol Crawley BSC was able to remind the audience of the beauty of good old-fashioned film. The film was under-exposed to bring greater detail to the shadows, a brilliant choice in a movie with large portions set outdoors. The set and costume design was also immaculate, every piece creating the aesthetic of Knockemstiff with exemplary detail. 

While this movie was great to watch for the acting and pure beauty of the film and artistic direction, it fell flat in the complex thriller category. Before I had watched, I expected this to be a movie on my mind for the foreseeable future, but by the end, I felt like I had just watched over two hours of some bad people doing some bad things and that was about it. For fans of the actors starring in this film, it’s definitely a good watch if for nothing else but the acting. For those who make a point to watch all of the latest Netflix films just to be able to join the conversation the next time movies are brought up, this isn’t one to skip, although you should be aware of the intense violence. But remember, sometimes when the trailer looks like this film is going to be one of the best, the trailer normally ends up being better. 

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