Review: ‘The Devil All The Time’ is a bleak story anchored by great performances

There are a lot of no good sons of bitches out there. This is the message that Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) imparts to his son immediately after brutally beating two men who had made lewd comments about his wife.

Willard teaches his young son Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta) that the world is full of no good sons of bitches, and that using violence against them is not so much a question of if as it is when. Years later, an adult Arvin (Tom Holland) finds himself surrounded by no-good sons of bitches; he remembers his father’s lessons.

The Devil All The Time is a story of generational pain and violence in 1950s Ohio. It is bleak, and unflinching, and also incredibly uneven. If it weren’t anchored by two brilliant performances I’m not sure that I would recommend it. Luckily, it is, so I am.

The first of those performances is Tom Holland as the adult Arvin. Though the course of the plot Arvin ends up being raised by his grandmother alongside his stepsister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). He is quiet, but fiercely protective of her. Holland is great in this. Even in scenes where he is merely conversing or speaking Holland brings. real depth to the role. There’s a palpable feeling of anger underneath his calm exterior, and the frustration he feels at being trapped by his fathers lessons is really quite affecting.

The second great performance is from Robert Pattinson, who is in full-blown slime ball mode as a sleazy southern preacher who has designs on Lenora. Pattinson lays on the smarm thick for the townspeople, and the charm for the young ladies of the town. He is delightfully creepy as one of the villains of the film and as with other recent supporting performances he commits himself fully to the character.

Robert Pattinson / The Devil All The Time
Robert Pattinson / The Devil All The Time

The issue wit The Devil All The Time is that while Holland and Pattinson are performing in an utterly compelling, sweat drenched hillbilly noir picture, their story doesn’t really pick up until the back half of the film. In the first half there is the story of Arvin’s parents, his step-sister’s parents, the origins of the local sheriff, and the sheriff’s sister who happens to be one half of a husband and wife team of serial killers.

The story wouldn’t work without all this setup but the first half contains very little to enthral you. It is all religion, piety, bad choices, and death.

The second half is all of that too, but once Holland and Pattinson begin to share the screen things gain a focus that the film previously lacked and becomes utterly compelling. Once the stories all start to come together they pay off in a violent and bloody manner. It just takes so long to get there.

It sounds like I am complaining but The Devil All The Time isn’t a bad movie. It’s a fine film, and there’s good craft here, and between the camera work,  production design (much of the period detail of the film is exquisite), and the main performances, there is definitely something worth checking out.

The Devil All The Time is now streaming on Netflix.