The Devil All the Time (2020)

The Devil All the Time
Director: Antonio Campos
Writer: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos
Based on: Donald Ray Pollock‘s novel
Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Haley Bennett, Sebastian Stan, Kristin Griffith, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Harry Melling, Eliza Scanlen, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska
Seen on: 18.9.2022

Content Note: domestic violence, rape, suicide, animal death

Arvin (Tom Holland) grew up in rural Ohio, shaped by religion, poverty and the tragic story of his parents, war veteran Willard (Bill Skarsgård) and the love of his life, Charlotte (Haley Bennett). After they both die when Arvin is still very young, he grows up with his grandmother (Kristin Griffith) and her adoptive daughter Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). Arvin is desperate to protect Lenora from the world – like his father couldn’t protect his mother. But the world is harsh and protecting isn’t easy.

The Devil All the Time is a movie all about how women die like fleas, and how hard that is for the men. It’s suffocating in its misery and in the end, one can’t help but wonder what the point of all this is.

The film poster showing an arrangement of the main characters in hues of brown and orange over an animal skull.

The major selling point for The Devil All the Time is the cast, and they are all really terrific, there is no doubt about it. Holland plays against type, and it works. Pattinson is insufferably smug in his role, and it fits perfectly. Skarsgård nails the tortured Willard. But there is a reason why I only explicitly mention the male actors here – because the women in the film are only Macguffins for the male storylines. Seriously, if you replaced all the women in the film with lamps (lamps that are very important to the men who own them and that can have babies), practically nothing about it would change.

This not only sucky in general, but it’s especially egregious in a film that thinks it is all about how precious women are, and about how a violent world ruins it all. Of the bigger roles at the end of the film, only one woman is still alive. There are also a lot of dead men, but at least they also get to make decisions and take actions in the film. And the film considers the (emotional) impact of things as they happen to the men. Not so much for the women.

Arvin (Tom Holland) sitting in church.

Aside from my feminist issues with the film, I have to say that I found it a bit tiring to just watch all this violence in grey. At two and a half hour, the film is simultaneously too long and not long enough. I don’t know the novel this is based on, but it feels like the Camposes would have had to either cut some (more) plotlines to do a trimmed down version justice or expand the entire thing into a mini-series. For example, the subplot about the sheriff (Sebastian Stan), his sister (Riley Keough) and her husband (Jason Clarke) felt out of place and could probably have been cut, or would have needed more work to fit with the rest of the film.

One could say that it is impressive how Campos managed to set this oppressiveness in scene, but I also have to say that I don’t know why you’d want to put yourself through this with this film. I grew more and more impatient with the film as it went on and when it was finally over, I was really glad to get out of this version of Ohio and its misery.

Reverend Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) sitting in church, alone.

Summarizing: no, thanks.

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