Got time for a sinner?
It would be a gross understatement to say that The Devil All the Time is a clear cut tale about right and wrong; when in fact it is so much more. Set in post World War Two Ohio, USA, the film introduces us to a small town where as much as God is revered, he's never really around. The setting of small backwater town Knockemstiff is all very noir and gothic in aesthetic, and the dead forests, ramshackled old houses and bleak colour pallete do a great job of making you feel uneasy. If the setting wasn't sinister enough, the stories' emphasis on Christianity, hand in hand with good and evil, will definitely drive the eeriness home.
Faith is at the heart of the setting, characters and heart of the story itself, and how it is differs from person to person, as well as what it drives them to do. In the final year of the Second World War, father of protagonist, Arvin, comes face to face with a fellow soldier crucified by the Japanese which leaves him unable to look at a cross and engage in his faith; that is until he finds faith when he starts a family. In the beginning of the movie we are also introduced to a flashy, all show no tell preacher, who demonstrates how God removed his fear by pouring a jar of spiders over his face. This is soon followed by him praying in the darkness, and eventually killing his wife believing that God will grant him the power to resurrect her. Though both men, and many of the other characters have good intentions, they fail to recognize the horror and evil their faith can propagate. The film has its fair share of violence reminiscent of old testament style biblical brutality and savagery, where being a Christian means punishing the sinful and doing what you must to prove your devotion to God, which is often the cause of the film's various disturbing moments. Character's blind devotion to their faith and misconstrued ideas of right and wrong often bring them closer to sin than salvation, making for an experience that is unsettling and abundant in depth.
Where the movie shines is in its array of distinct characters. Robert Pattinson's role as Preacher Preston Teagardin is a standout among the cast, and is made memorable from the moment he first appears on screen. We are first introduced to Preston as the young, charming stand-in preacher for the local town of Knockemstiff, wearing a pastel blue suit that practically screams for your attention; which you quickly realise is the point. Preston is a character who wants not only to be seen, but also heard, conjuring up whatever anecdote from the bible he can think of to pollute the minds of his parishioners who are more than happy to hang on his every word. Pattinson nails his performance as a character who is not only vile, but repulsive in the way he grossly abuses his status and the naiveite of his ministry to pursue his lustful motivations.
By far the star performance in the movie comes from up and comer Tom Holland, who shows that he's more than Marvel golden boy, Peter Parker. Holland plays Arvin Russell, a young man orphaned as a child following the death of his mother and suicide of his father. As a boy, Arvin was taught to pray by his father, who set up a cross in the woods behind his childhood home. When his mother gets sick, his father begins to fall apart and becomes pious to a fault in order to get good to save his wife, forcefully making Arvin beg God to save his mother, and even going as far as to crucify the family dog as some sick sacrifice. As a young man, Holland's Arvin has no real ambition in life and is constantly bearing the weight of his fathers cross, something that leaves him disconnected to his faith altogether. Despite his reservations about his father, Arvin is very much his father's son, adopting the ethics of vigilante justice his daddy taught him, as he sets about violently teaching wrongdoer's a lesson, whether it be bullies, or Preacher Teagardin. Arvin is a cut above the rest of the movies' many characters as the only one with any real good intentions, and despite how he goes about doing the right thing, he remains a character you hope is okay as he gets by in a world that is cruel and full of misfortune. Holland moulds into the character of Arvin with ease, reflecting every emotion, thought and feeling the character has at any given moment to near perfection, making for a performance that will have you invested in what is without a doubt his most impressive, and intricate role yet.
Something I didn't expect from this movie was the occasional narration from the stories' original author, which I found to be a charming touch. When the film starts and we are introduced to Arvin's father Willard, the narrator teases to importance of certain characters before we see them entre the real spotlight, which had me immediately engaged. However, one of the great features of cinematic storytelling is the ability to show rather than tell, and having the narrator describe what a character's doing, saying, thinking or feeling at random intervals feels unnecessary; especially when the cast has no trouble evoking emotion.
The Devil All The Time is by far one of the most emotive, creative and unique films of the year, and there hasn't been many movies out recently that are as distinct and thorough in their setting, storytelling and character development as this is. With a subject matter that makes your skin crawl and characters expertly brought to life by some award-worthy performances, this is a must watch for anyone looking for a compelling character driven story, that in the end goes beyond its novel roots, becoming a parable on how the line between good and evil, right and wrong, might never have been there at all.
The Devil All The Time is available to watch now on Netflix.