The Devil All the Time (2020)
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An neatly atmospheric southern mood and strong performances from its cast ensemble save this 2:20h-picture from being, foremost, muddled. Suit yourself for a lot of pain and atrocities and some narrative lengths.
It really is one of these films for me which almost scream that there's a great story hidden, and better told, in the book source; probably because certain aspects got lost while being translated from written language to film, oftentimes inevitably so.
Many people will "enjoy" it nonetheless, if only for the performances of Harry Melling, Bill Skarsgård and Robert Pattinson. And even if Antonio Campos may fail at coherent storytelling, he tries to achieve something along the way - and I respect that.
Some movies really make you feel it that they are based on books. The Devil All the Time is such a movie, taking its good time unraveling how its disparate stories connect to one another, interspersed with lines from the novel, and coming off as a dank horror show of murderous dead ends. I found the first two acts of this piece of Southern Gothic rather tedious, all told, even if the concept is interesting. Though this isn't hammered home, as I see it, two soldiers come back from WWII with an infection of evil (though not overtly supernatural). It infects the stretch of road between their two towns and mayhem ensues until one gets off the track. But this gets a little lost early on, where PTSD is manifested in religious imagery that reminds one particular veteran of his experiences. Christian zealotry is definitely in the crosshairs here, the preachers in particular up to no good (including Robert Pattinson and his amazing accent), but there's a serial killer who is manufacturing his own spiritual experiences. There's also a strict crime subplot, which loses focus. The third act, in which Tom Holland gets righteous on everyone's asses, almost saves the film - I've been going back and forth on this - but in the end, I was more bored than interested, so I have to dock it half a star.
I agree with former commenter Torgo. At several points, I felt that this story could have been told better, maybe by a Paul Schrader or Paul Thomas Anderson type. It’s an interesting story - the themes of inherited sin, fate, corruption, deception, etc. all have great potential for exploration in a more intimate, less ‘Hollywood’ film.
Performances are all-around solid, and make certain scenes soar above the rest. Shout-out to Harry Melling’s raving sermon near the beginning and Robert Pattinson’s ridiculous reverend; the manic energy emanating from these characters is fantastic and I found myself giggling with joy whenever Pattinson’s weirdly-accented voice and absurdly ruffled shirt were featured.
Overall a solid film with transcendent moments here and there, but it could benefit from a more experienced and delicate touch.
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