The Devil All the Time
Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan, Eliza Scanlen, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke
Director: Antonio Campos
The charm of films like The Devil All the Time lies in its capacity to make you feel terrible after you have finished the film. For two hours you watch the characters go through hell, and when you snap back to reality, you realise the world around you is not very different either.
The Devil All the Time is the cinematic adaptation of the 2011 novel by American writer Donald Ray Pollock, who, thanks to a stroke of brilliance by the makers, narrates the film. The film, directed by Antonio Campos and produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, tells the story of two quaint towns, Coal Creek, West Virginia and Knockemstiff, Ohio, tied together by tragedy, misfortune and death.
People in these towns are not your lively country folk as war, desolation, poverty and violence effect every life here. All they have is their faith to cling to. However, when faith and religion become the centre of their lives, their lives become hell. Needless to stay, this is not a story about hope.
It is really hard to describe this film without giving away major spoilers. Also because the film doesn't tell one story, but several, woven intricately with one another. You have to sit through it all to understand. A war veteran falls in love with a waitress, but his blissful family life is marred with his PTSD. He makes up for his paranoia by beating bullies into a pulp and praying like a maniac. His dependence on God takes a turn for the darker when his wife gets diagnosed with cancer.
A preacher in the nearby town is on the run after he murdered his wife, because the "voice
of The Lord" told him he would resuscitate her. He meets a travelling couple, serial killers who force hitchhikers to have sex with them, killing them in the act and then collect polaroids of their conquests. There is also a corrupt Sheriff, the epitome of evil, who will go to any lengths to make sure nobody takes away his power.
At the centre of it all, is Arvin Russell (Michael Banks Repeto, Tom Holland). After a tragic childhood, he grows up with his grandmother, uncle and another orphan Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) who he loves as his own sister. He does not pray because of his childhood experiences, and is fiercely protective of what is left oh his family. He is especially paranoid about Lenora, who gets bullied in school a lot. Even when he beats those bullies into a pulp like his father once did, Lenora falls into a more dangerous trap.
All this happens in the first act itself, but when you are watching the film, you don't think too much is happening too fast. The story jumps timelines too, and there are a lot of details that might get missed, but the narrator acts as the huckster's crutch whenever necessary.
While the storytelling helps the film, it benefits the most from the performances. Obviously the reason people are even watching the film is to see Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson, share the screen. And they deliver, Holland carries a film on his back which is unlike anything he has ever done before. Robert Pattinson has proved himself time and again, and this film is no different. Bill Skarsgard, is another actor that drew people to the film, and he too proves that great acting is in his genes.
However, we need to talk about the other actors. Riley Keough and Jason Clarke play of off each other so well, that you actually believe that they are sick, perverted people who only "feel closest to god when they kill." Riley is probably the most important female character in the film, and she swings from someone stuck in an abusive relationship to a psycho who enjoys killing out of habit really well. Eliza Scanlen doesn't shy away from being vulnerable on screen. Harry Melling is so creepy as the preacher who will go to any extend to make people hear the power of his faith, even put a jar full of spiders on his face or plunge a screwdriver in the neck of the woman he loved.
However, someone who exceeds expectations is Sebastian Stan, who is even scarier and more despicable than he was in I Tonya. The effort he put in this film is evident and as an actor who always gets sidelined, we hope he gets the appreciation he deserves with this film.
The Devil All the Time is too broad of a film to be packed in a nutshell. However, one key takeaway is how terrifyingly relevant it still is, despite being set in 1957. One look at 2020 and we know not much has changed. Also, if this film were to be released in India, many organisations would burn effigies and put a bounty on Tom Holland's head by now.
It is a film that should be watched, but only by those who can stomach the gore. There is a lot of death in the film, in its most horrifying, disgusting forms. Audience discretion is advised. But there is a lot of truth too, which might be scarier.