Written by: Antonio Campos & Paulo Campos
Starring: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke
In the purest sense, religion provides people with something to find refuge in and a higher calling in life as the prospects of the unconditional love of an omnipotent being bestows comfort. This belief remains personal for each person but when it gets weaponized or used as a justification for harsh actions is when one has to question if the person practicing it has ever read the text they state they believe. An issue found with most characters in The Devil All the Time, which carries several meaningful threads that ultimately get diluted with far too many characters.
The area between Coal Creek, Wet Virginia and Meade, Ohio harbors hardworking God-fearing folks. Religion plays a major part in their way of life, especially for Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), who has a dangerous connection to it with his family history. The young man gets thrust into a situation he must contend with when a charming new pastor, Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) moves in and proves not to practice what he preaches.
The Devil All the Time landed in all of our lives with the promise to tell a grand story with an extremely large cast of talented actors. After experiencing the brutal and violent movie, I can definitely state it certainly was a story with a large cast of talented actors. A ringing endorsement, I know, but while it had such talented folks involved with the project, it ran out of things to do with them and placed them into characters who had nothing to do with the thematic throughline of the story. Instead, it turned into a jumbled mess that became far too lopsided for its own good as a result.
In the positive arena, it certainly takes a critical look at the impact of religion on these small communities and the individuals presiding in them like Arvin and his family. He has a complicated relationship with religion, as his father (Bill Skarsgård) prayed almost too hard thinking God would answer every prayer. As the story displays, Arvin’s father went to extremes to show his devotion to God in the efforts to save the life of his terminally ill wife. Undoubtedly, it leaves an impact on Arvin as he can barely escape religious practices with now his grandmother and sister devotedly following it. This makes his inevitable collision with Reverend Preston a heated one, as the film looks at the errors of this pastor’s ways and how much parishioners want to impress this man. It comes off as shocking but ultimately falls right in line with the common practices of folks and these religious leaders.
Violence erupts all in the name of a God, who preaches peace in the New Testament. When the film focuses on the religious aspects, it shines but then other stories get brought in, which takes away from the central message, thus diluting the quality aspects with unnecessary and useless plot points. This occurs with the story of the serial killing couple, Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough). Looking at their story as a whole, it had nothing much to do with the religious aspect of the film and contributes nothing of substance to the narrative other than being something one of the characters confronts later on. It heinously sticks out thematically as these two characters appear to be in a completely different movie. At the very least, it displays why hitchhiking rates have gone down significantly. Other storylines, which include Sheriff Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stann) take away from the main story and have no real emotional payoff worth adding to the story. It makes the film feel overly bloated as a result. Ultimately, it feels like there are two stories in this film trying to connect in the most unnatural ways.
Even with the Arvin and Reverend Preston storyline serving as the high points for the story, the casting of its characters felt a bit odd. This story takes place in Appalachia and no matter how hard they tried with their southern accents, I could never buy Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson as these characters. They look far too British and pretty-boy to believe they could portray these characters in a meaningful way. It takes away from their good work, especially Robert Pattinson, who I could listen to yell “Delusions!” all day. None of it felt natural and instead felt like actors playing dress-up and make-believe rather than authentic characters on-screen. Other actors in this star-studded cast fit the bill of their characters, but when the two most prominent ones don’t then the film has an issue.
With little segments of good storytelling, The Devil All the Time remains a bit of a mess overall with a strong message getting muddled in portraying gross and unimportant fodder for the story overall. It feels like an overlong slog whenever it cuts away from Arvin and Reverend Preston and continually made me question exactly why these other characters were even featured in this story. The narrative and themes try to be one thing but cannot stick to it long enough or with any consistency to have the desired impact.