When we first saw the trailer for Netflix’s “The Devil All the Time”, we were intrigued. A psychological thriller with a grim, Southern Gothic tone. Set around the mid-60s in the heartland of the midwest, it looked like it’d be a right, ole dark time. It had all the makings of a creepy, little whodunnit with plenty of thrills. What really caught our attention, though, was the appearance of one Tom Holland in the film’s trailer.
Tom Holland, the kid who plays the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) Spider-Man? In a southern thriller akin to something out of a Stephen King novel? Now that really gave us a moment for pause. When we saw Robert Pattinson’s preacher screaming “Delusions!” in the trailer, we were sold!
Well, it’s finally out on Netflix and we’re excited to see how Holland measures up in a serious psychological thriller. Let’s get into it. The film is based on a novel of the same name by writer Donald Roy Pollock. The film is a densely layered drama that sees multiple story arcs and characters converging on our protagonist, Tom Holland’s Arvin Russell. In the sleepy town of Knockemstiff, Ohio, something evil is brewing.
Growing up in a deeply religious household, Arvin was exposed to all the evils of religious tricksters and conmen. So when a slick, seductive preacher named Preston Teagardin comes shuffling into town, things get turned upside down. His story eventually converges with a Bonnie-and-Clyde pair of serial killers and a crooked sheriff as well. Against all odds, Arvin will stop at nothing to protect his family from the snakes and vultures circling them.
Right from the get-go, it’s clear that the film is based off a novel. There are multiple characters, subplots and character arcs set up before we even get to the beginning of the mystery. The film is a little over 2 hours long and is an expansive intergenerational story. A terrifying tapestry of how religious fundamentalism poisons the minds of its believers into doing terrible things. How it allows for rampant abuses and how it must be confronted.
This is where “The Devil All the Time” is a bit of a mixed bag for us. Some of the setups made in the earlier parts of the film do come to a satisfying conclusion. Particularly, Arvin’s arc as an angry man scarred by his father’s blind devotion to a cruel God. Then, there are other elements that come to play later on in the film that falls completely flat. Subplots and payoffs that are spread far too thin.
So while we love how “The Devil All the Time” goes the distance to bring Pollock’s world to vivid life, we can’t help but consider the film’s length to be a weakness. The film’s length is far too short to flesh out every subplot. And yet it feels far too long in trying to tell us everything we need to know. Nonetheless, the film is still a competent and fascinating thriller with plenty of bump-in-the-night chills. It might have been better if it was adapted as a limited miniseries, though. Perhaps along the vein of HBO’s “True Detective” for example.
For those coming into “The Devil All the Time” expecting it to be a light affair, it’s not. The film opens with a pretty brutal scene of a makeshift crucifixion. From then on, it only gets more graphic and brutal. One of the most gut wrenching scenes in the entire film is when a father sacrifices the family dog in an attempt to get God to cure his wife of cancer. So if you’re someone whose particularly squeamish about violence and blood, the film may present itself to be self-indulgent at times. Most of the instances in our opinion, we feel are justified.
The real meat of the film lies in its riveting performance by its talented cast of actors. We had our doubts about Holland playing such a heavy role in a serious psychological thriller. It can be hard to separate the young man from his prominent part in the MCU and the other family-friendly films he’s in. His most notable performance away from his usual upbeat self was in Tom Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea”. He did fine but nothing that indicated real potential.
Here, however, we get to see him at his most emotionally charged and raw. He plays a young man who inherited his father’s rage and frustration. A rough-and-tumble teenager having to bear the burden of protecting his family. The character archetype isn’t terribly original but somehow, Holland manages to sell it. One bloody montage following his rampage on a group of high school bullies was a real treat to watch. It seems like our boy Holland’s all grown up! Who knows? Maybe, he’ll even star in a David Fincher film one day.
Tom Holland is only second to Robert Pattinson in the film. The “Tenet” actor’s performance as the skeezy Southern preacher Preston Teagardin was nothing short of delightful. The man steals every damn scene he’s in. He musters all the cheap charm and charisma of a snake-oil salesman from a bygone era so effortlessly. Honestly, there were moments in which we felt like clapping while Teagardin was going off on one of his sermons. For some odd reason, Pattinson seems to play morally reprehensible characters very well.
Netflix’s “The Devil All the Time” is a grand cautionary tale on the dangers of religious fundamentalism and the cycle of trauma passed down from it. Even if the film doesn’t exactly nail all of its plot beats perfectly, it’s captivating performances and grim subject matter will invariably catch your attention.
Again, we do feel that the film’s length may be a bit of a turn-off to those looking for a simple good time. That being said, if you’re willing to invest a weekend night to scratch that macabre itch, then “The Devil All the Time” is right up your alley. If you came in looking to see if Holland could deliver the dramatic goods, you will not be disappointed.
You can now catch “The Devil All the Time” today on Netflix!