Antonio Campos has become something of a cult auteur in recent years with his stylish thriller/horror hybrids such as Simon Killer and his production duties on the superb Martha Marcy May Marlene. Campos’ ability to capture the most macabre instincts and intentions within the human psyche and splatter it on to a celluloid canvas has been impressive and met with much acclaim. Fast forward to the present and Campos, working alongside Netflix, has brought us an adaptation of the heralded novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock. With The Devil All the Time would Campos be able to continue his hot streak of artistic success or would Campos inevitably run out of gas?
The Devil All the Time is a complex story, intertwining the seemingly coincidental meetings of a number of different characters in the small Ohio/West Virginia towns of Knockemstiff and Coal Creek. The Russells are a religious family focused on finding divinity through the worship of ‘Our Lord’. Yet, when love and tranquility is afflicted by sickness, devastation hits the Russell family hard. Our protagonist, Arvin (Tom Holland) is a grief-stricken young man focused on protecting his adopted sister, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) from any and all harm. But corruption, lies and all manners of violence plague the towns of Knockemstiff and Coal Creek and it isn’t long before Arvin is confronted with heartbreak and violence once again.
Campos’ heartbreaking tale boasts a handful of incredible performances bringing the pages of this harrowing script/novel to life. The filmmaker has assembled an ensemble cast consisting of established stars like Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan, Riley Keough and Jason Clarke who all give superb turns that cement the director’s natural talent for pushing his actors to give the performances of their careers. It is a quality Campos has showcased all throughout his career, particularly with his movies like Simon Killer and Afterschool.
In The Devil All the Time, Tom Holland is a far cry from his role as Marvel’s Spiderman, bringing a gritty, merciless performance that begs for complete immersion and Holland proves his ability to thankfully oblige. Robert Pattinson as the enigmatic Reverend Teagardin is creepy and mesmerizing if slightly underused and both Riley Keough and Jason Clarke as the maniacal Henderson lovers are brilliant, if completely generic, bringing to mind Oliver Stone’s Mallory and Mickey from Natural Born Killers or Sion Sono’s Yukio and Aiko from Cold Fish. Even when characters are underserved, the entire cast are faultless, bringing a tremendous level of authenticity rarely seen in thrillers nowadays.
Also adding an extra layer of authenticity is the art direction and set design throughout The Devil All the Time. Campos’ newest flick is dirty, grimy and feels like a true period piece like intended. Journeying through the 1940’s to the late 1950’s, Campos focuses on the religion obsessed Ohio/West Virgina to admirable effect and its characterisations are incredibly on point echoing the standard of immersion set by Pollock’s novel.
Unfortunately, where The Devil All the Time stumbles is with its sluggish pacing, damning overall length and its all too familiar set up and end results. Clocking in at close to 140 minutes, The Devil All the Time is way too long for its intended execution. Campos has focused on a jigsaw puzzle-like slow pace that lacks any real urgency (especially in its tremendously slow middle) and falls slightly flat by the time the credits start to roll.
Slow burns can be rewarding experiences if they present the viewer with an impactful build up and finale. With The Devil All the Time, sadly, there is not a lot of this because everything the movie offers up has been executed much stronger in other similar flicks. Throughout the thriller you will find your mind unwillingly making connections with similarly themed movies and it won’t be long before you start picking apart its obvious influences.
Harry Melling’s Roy Laferty feels like he has been ripped straight from Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, Sebastian Stan’s corrupt murderous Sheriff Lee Bodecker feels like the long lost brother of The Killer Inside Me’s Lou Ford and the aforementioned Hendersons are a mix and match of nearly every serial killer couple in movies over the last couple of decades. It is extremely derivative at times and feels like it has far more in common with Michael Winterbottom’s less than impressive The Killer Inside Me than PTA’s beloved There Will Be Blood.
The slow pacing doesn’t help affairs as The Devil All the Time, as authentic as it may feel, never really provides any form of an adrenaline rush. Many of the characters within Campos’ movie are despicable or just downright evil. But you never once feel a sense of unease or danger at proceedings.
Yes, it can be quite heartbreaking at times given what unfolds. However, overall, these enigmatic characters are fairly one dimensional when you expect something far greater given Campos’ abilities. Events become pretty predictable once familiar tropes start to emerge and by its conclusion, it just feels dull and wreaks of a missed opportunity given Campos’ obvious talent behind a camera lens.
The Devil All the Time certainly isn’t a bad movie. Many will find much to enjoy here. Yet, ultimately, it feels like a homage instead of something original which is a damn shame given the incredible performances on display here.