• Through the Trees

Review: The Devil all the Time

Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson star in Antonio Campos' potent adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s novel

Written by Katherine McLaughlin

One of the big draws of this epic adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 novel is the talented ensemble cast made up of Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Tom Holland, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Eliza Scanlen, Haley Bennett, Sebastian Stan and Bill Skarsgård (who gets the chance to take a short break from being terrifying in his role as Pennywise in IT and show off his range). Each actor gets their moment, though it’s fair to say some of them get short shrift, as intertwining stories of faith, religious fervour and corruption play out over the course of twenty years, spanning the time between World War II and the Vietnam war.

Set in the Mid-West, the film begins in Knockemstiff, Ohio, the place where Pollock grew up and worked for most of his life. It is his powerfully evocative narration that introduces the viewer to a place populated by damaged souls searching for hope and redemption from a collection of preachers, charlatans and psychopaths. Directed by Antonio Campos who co-wrote the film with his brother Paulo, the bleak brutality of the novel is matched by a pounding intensity that rarely lets up and is neatly paired with rich cinematography by Lol Crawley. Campos sets a suspenseful and mesmerising ambience in this unflinching American gothic melodrama; the rural setting is menacing; the well-cast actors serve up big performances and the horror of trauma and violence are rendered unforgettable.

Pattinson turns in a truly repulsive performance as a slimy, egotistical preacher intent on ruining teenage girls’ lives for personal kicks. Clarke is great as a sweaty psycho. Holland in what can be considered the main character, Arvin, appears in the second part of the film and does phenomenal work in his role as a sceptical young man. Understated and brimming with emotional turmoil, this mature performance is full of pathos and beautifully serves his character’s dramatic arc.

Wasikowska is as ever a welcome presence in a small role; Bennett glows as a tender romance blooms and stirringly wilts as the film continues; Keough credibly inhabits her role as waitress-turned servant to a wicked man’s wiles, while Scanlen once again exhibits her natural talent, with a poignant turn as a curious young woman tempted by a devilish presence.

What Campos does with ease is make the time spent with these characters feel oppressive, fragile and tense. There’s an inescapable cruelty woven into the very fabric of this film that mercilessly encroaches on each character and it is skin crawlingly effective. Campos has crafted a dark and potent exploitation of faith, that has a strong hold on the way corruption and delusion play a big part in who leads the flock and guides the vulnerable into dangerous territory. The Devil all the Time successfully delivers on the ominous potential of its suggestive title.

Available to watch on Netflix from 16th September.


Director: Antonio Campos

Screenwriters: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård

Distributor: Netflix

Certificate: 18

Running Time: 138 minutes

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