‘The Devil All the Time’: The Southern Vigilante

Revenge is always a complex, rich theme fit for exploration. It has been repeated endlessly through time, but it seems everyone cannot have enough of it. While Antonio Campos’ The Devil All The Time demonstrates a good grasp of it, it doesn’t offer a fresh take.

The central storyline follows Arvin Russel (Tom Holland), the son of a religious soldier (Bill Skarsgård) and a waitress (Haley Bennett). With his father, he learns that he must fight back, a crucial lesson he carries throughout his life. Everything seems to go downhill after the death of his mother, as he suddenly finds himself bringing down the evil in his hometown.

Campos manages to carry a serious tone throughout even with the different plotlines. The sermon of the preachers balances sincerity and religious fervor. The first preacher (Harry Melling) demonstrates his faith with spiders, while the second (Robert Pattinson) demonstrates his point with food. Each shot is carefully crafted to fit the mood of the film.

Campos gets great performances from Roy Laferty (Melling), the campy preacher and father of Lenora, and Sandy Henderson (Riley Keough), one-half of a serial killer duo, who are both excellent at being smarmy and creepy. Lenora Laferty (Eliza Scanlen), Arvin’s adopted sister, does well despite her limited screen time. Everyone in the film has managed to pull equal weight.

The Devil All The Time: Tom Holland as Arvin Russell. Photo Cr.: Glen Wilson/Netflix © 2020

The Devil All The Time has multiple storylines that all demonstrate various degrees of importance to the central plot. Some plotlines were needlessly long, especially serial killer duo Sandy and Carl’s unnecessary origin story. There were characters like Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff Bodecker whose importance was made much bigger than needed. Book-to-movie adaptations are often criticized for not being accurate and erasing certain parts. This film manages to do the opposite by including a lot of the novel, which led to an overly drawn-out plot. Unless you’re a big fan of the book, the detailed origin stories for every character aren’t appreciated.

But my core issue with the plot is that it doesn’t offer anything new. The idea of a “good guy with a gun” has been a core American ideology in and out of Hollywood. In a Washington Post article, Alyssa Rosenberg observes that films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon have fictional cops that don’t care “whether it was wrong to kill their antagonists.” This is true for The Devil All The Time as well. The men in the film do not hesitate to hurt others for their benefit. Richard Lawson, in his Vanity Fair review, says that the film is “a total failure to see any humanity in most of its poor, ailing characters.” Characters in the film are seemingly created just to rush the plot forward. This ties in with the issue of too many plotlines since there seems to be no space to develop characters.

Although Campos manages to get his performances right, he does little to elevate the plot of the film beyond its material. The Devil All The Time is a glossy film brimming with potential that suffers from its dedication to the book it’s adapting from.

The Devil All the Time is streaming on Netflix.

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