The Devil All The Time: Twisted Through and Through
A strange offering from Netflix takes a road less traveled
The Devil All The Time is, indeed, a strange offering from Netflix. Instead of slapping a big name on the package and placing that individual high on the hierarchy of characters so that viewers all over the globe can worship and swoon over him/her, The Devil All The Time treads a different, less glamorous path into the isolated woods. It is a road less traveled by other filmmakers, especially ones who crave beauty and perfection.
But perfection can be such a subjective word, isn’t it? For studios like Disney, perfection happens 24 times per second, which, is to say that with the usual playback speed of 24 frames per second of feature films, every frame or ‘stills’ has to be blemish free. Mess it up, and the conglomerate risks being called into an extraordinary general meeting with shareholders to answer whether their top-tier VFX makers have been secretly bought over by rival studios.
For films like The Devil All The Time, though, imperfections are often touted as elements that bring the film that much closer to perfection. Which explains why despite the mood of the film being gothic, twisted and dark, it is still one of the freshest movies that I have seen recently. Perhaps I have myself to blame because backwoods thrillers are not exactly the type of film that frequently lands on my radar, but this time, I thought that a tenacious-looking Tom Holland, a so-good-looking-it-poisons-you Robert Pattinson, and my early prediction of the film’s multi-layered story-telling are all too good to give any of them a pass.
Director Antonio Campos managed to team together a group of bright household-staples to bring this dark tale to life. Tom Holland plays Arvin Russell, the son of a World War II veteran (Bill Skarsgård), whose ominous fate is about to take a second ride with the arrival of a deceitful preacher (Robert Pattinson). The preacher’s deception will eventually reach the doorsteps of Arvin’s loved ones (Eliza Scanlen and Kristin Griffith). Elsewhere, a shady photographer (Jason Clarke) finds interest in a beautiful waitress (Riley Keough), and the whole saga is monitored by a corrupt sheriff (Sebastian Stan).
Having been in contact with Netflix’s feature films lately, and suspecting that a recurring cast will return, I was greeted by the forgotten Harry of Harry Potter — Harry Melling, who played the unintentionally (or was it intentionally?) goofy villain in The Old Guard. This round, Melling plays an over-the-top preacher who gets magically goofy the moment he speaks, but at the very least, leaves more merit in the character itself and the story as compared to The Old Guard.
Now, The Devil All The Time inadvertently positions itself as a great example that metaphorically differentiates camping from ‘glamping’. Hint: there will be no Wifi, no camping in large groups, and definitely, no hot-water showers. You have to be prepared to get sucked-up by mosquitoes, camp alone or with a single friend, and occasionally, greeted by eerie noises at night. And because how frequently The Devil All The Time associates itself with putrid, rotten smell along its plot, just pretend that you have to put up with your buddy’s smelly feet throughout the entire camping experience as well.
The point is, the film presents a far more unpleasant palette to the crowd than most moviegoers would expect, or even endure. The signal was already pretty strong the moment I realized how most of the characters materialized in the form of hammered-down, unattractive versions of the respective actors and actresses. Still, that is nothing compared to the sick, twisted minds that fuel the events and mishaps of the story, and to say that I was completely prepared for everything that the film has to whisper at my ears is nothing but a boastful lie.
Campos has such a forte for ‘downscaling’ the stars, because some of them are barely recognizable in-film. Mia Wasikowska, who plays a peculiar orphan with a tragic past, looks spot-on, and I bet nobody would have instantly recognized her as the Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton’s 2010 film). Sebastian Stan’s in-film appearance took the perfect shape of a semi-bloated, corrupt officer, and looks like he stayed-at-home, eating-all-winter rather than being The Winter Soldier. Nobody in The Devil All The Time is perfect, be it looks or character. And I love it.
Fans will probably get a sigh of relief to learn that there are no significant downgrades applied to Holland or Pattinson’s characters, but there is a lot more going on with their personas as opposed to their looks. The Devil All The Time did not just smear some dirt on Holland’s — possibly silky smooth — cheeks and call him a gritty character, but instead, there was a certain degree of commitment from Holland himself, which makes Arvin Russell his career redefining act. In between burning through endless packs of cigarettes and going on a violent spree, Arvin Russell is a product of Tom Holland proving that he has the range to take up darker and more complex characters.
Unsurprisingly, Bill Skarsgard’s Willard Russell gets the same gritty treatment and routine, and his gravitating performance coupled with his usual abyssal stares does make for a substantial screen presence. In the end, Robert Pattinson still rules in the film, giving an eye or ear opening performance, depending on whether you’re more attached to his effeminate, cowardly gestures or his surprising, high-pitched Southern drawl. Forget Tenet. Perhaps the only element that Pattinson has carried over from that film are those razor-edged suits.
If you are a fan of either Holland or Pattinson, and you expect The Devil All The Time to be a complete, all-night date with your idol, complemented with roses and a 10-course meal, then, you’re a little out of luck. I had my fair share for being out of luck too, for expecting the movie to feature a somewhat more complicated timeline. You see, The Devil All The Time is a vast fiction, and the story almost spans across two generations. Minus a few odd flashbacks, the story unfolds in a linear timeline, which means that the canvas is huge, and both Holland and Pattinson’s characters can only cover a fraction of it.
And here’s the dealbreaker. Though the stated running time is at an acceptable 138 minutes, due to the nature of the timeline and the pacing of the film, The Devil All The Time feels like almost a 3-hour film in reality. No doubt that at its core, the plot of the film is still a potent mind twister, and is still strongly seductive towards those who let their curiosity get the better of them. With that said, the movie is still essentially a slow-burn and might turn off those who hop-in and expect combustion right away. If you manage to get past through that, then the film has a lot more for you to discover, and soon enough you will realize that at the heart of the film, is a story that communicates a lot of depth, shadows of religion, and disturbing ideas.
It takes more than just being a fan of Holland or Pattinson to fully endorse The Devil All The Time, despite the film boasting some of the best performances from the duo so far. Yes, it is an intriguing and well written story that steers heavily around religion and twisted minds to fuel its shocking revelations. Still, it is a taxing film that truly tests your patience and how much shock your mind is willing to tolerate before you hit the killswitch, but if your curiosity is as strong as the faith of the society depicted in-film, you will have the privilege to watch the distressing story coming to a satisfying close — The Film Addict