A film with Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan and Robert Pattinson, branching storylines not unlike Pulp Fiction, the director of Christine, and Jake Gyllenhaal as a producer? It sounds brilliant on the paper but unfortunately failed to live up to its hype.
The Devil All the Time is an adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 novel of the same name. Consisting of several intertwining story lines, its themes heavily revolve around religion, evil and the lengths people will go to for God.
The Devil All the Time has plenty of interesting characters. Bill Skarsgard is a war hero named Willard Russell, hell bent on using his religion to save his wife (Haley Bennett) from death, even to the point of traumatizing his son Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta). Meanwhile, the woman Willard’s parents wanted him to marry (Mia Wasikowska) has become infatuated with a preacher who pours spiders onto his face. Tom Holland plays a grown-up Arvin, who has become a violently protective guardian angel to his adoptive sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). The new preacher in town is played by Robert Pattinson, a slimy being of a man expertly played to be instantly hated the moment he appears on screen. Sebastian Stan is a corrupt cop, driven purely by promotion. And finally, we have Carl (Jason Clarke), a photographer who enjoys taking pictures of men having sexual interactions with his beautiful wife Sandy (Riley Keough) before he kills them.
Unfortunately the story just had so much to say with too little time to do so, yet at the same time felt so drawn out and tedious. A miniseries would certainly have been a better option to create more depth for the intertwining story lines rather than flying from one plot point to another, dragging awkwardly through at a snail’s pace, and then quickly shoving in a climax at the end. And because of the poor pacing, the film skims over scenes that should have been given more time. For example, Willard’s experience in the army which caused him to have PTSD are hard to stomach, but happen so very quickly the viewer has no time to process what they just watched. Sandy and Carl appear throughout the film, though aren’t given enough screen time for us to truly see them as villains until it’s too late.
The cast are the only ones carrying this film on their back, each playing into their roles brilliantly. Holland and Pattinson stood out the most with Holland taking on a heartbreaking lead performance and Pattinson perfecting the creepy preacher so well that he’s hateable from the moment he steps on screen. Even young Michael Banks Repeta was superb in his emotionally demanding role. It’s a shame the story wasn’t enough to support their performances. And Donald Ray Pollock appears as the narrator, his saddened voice matching perfectly with the film’s gothic atmosphere.
With a stellar cast, established director and interesting premise, The Devil All the Time had everything going for it but somehow manages to miss the opportunity to create the really impactful story line from Donald Ray Pollock’s novel.