‘The Devil All The Time’ Review: Tom Holland Shines in a Dark Tale That Lacks Its Bite


Excuse me, Preacher … you got time for a sinner?

The Devil All The Time, the film adaptation of author Donald Ray Pollock’s novel of the same name, has officially landed on Netflix.

The film spans multiple decades up through the 1960s in rural Southern Ohio and West Virginia, following a disturbing menagerie of peculiar individuals that are connected in strange ways. The impressive cast lineup includes the likes of Tom Holland as the young Arvin Russell, Bill Skarsgård as his troubled war veteran father Willard, Robert Pattison as the strange preacher Preston Teagardin, Sebastian Stan as the crooked sheriff Lee Bodecker, Haley Bennett, Harry Melling, Eliza Scanlen, Riley Keough, Mia Wasikowska, and more.

Warning: ‘The Devil All The Time’ contains dark, disturbing, and triggering scenes and is not suitable for general audiences. Spoilers for the film beyond this point.

Courtesy of Netflix.

The main question leading up to this film was a simple one — would it live up to the utterly unflinching and endlessly disturbing darkness laid bare on the pages of the novel from whence it came? In short: it tried, but not quite.

Try as it might, the film adaption of The Devil All The Time fell short from that of its source material. Whereas the book contains such heavy themes that it can be difficult to read at times, the movie strips down the depravity that makes the lives of these awful characters so very gripping.

That being said, credit must be given where it is owed. The film’s strength is found in its actors, both young and old. Though we aren’t necessarily given the opportunity to dive as deeply into the iniquity that governs the more unsavory characters, the cast as a whole still manages to put on a stellar performance within the bounds of the story.

Holland, in particular, was truly a standout as Arvin, a boy who has seen far too much at his young age and is forced to propel himself into adulthood for the sake of those he loves and for his own survival. Stripped down from the youthful heroism found within his role as Spider-Man, Holland does a remarkable job at completely immersing himself in the hardened, protective, and unshakeable attitude that drips out in Arvin’s Southern drawl. It was a shame, though, that the prayer log was boiled down to one major incident, rather than the long and stomach-curdling trail of events that led up to it in the novel, as these instances were integral in explaining just how deranged Willard had become and the emotional trauma that molded Arvin as a child.

Courtesy of Netflix.

Though Pattinson’s character, Preston Teagardin, is only given the chance to scrape the icing off of the deranged ten-layer cake that the preacher is built from, the actor commands his scenes with an unsettling undercurrent of madness that lies within. He once again proves his versatility as an actor, capable of diving into offbeat roles such as this with a practiced ease.

If anything, The Devil All The Time would have benefited from a larger canvas on which to tell its story. Whereas some books are filled with extra fluff that can easily be trimmed away for the sake of a two-and-a-half-hour runtime, this one does not fall into that category. Those unfamiliar with the source material may find themselves lost at times within the push and pull pacing of the film, which doesn’t quite have the time to explain all of the gritty details that make it so compelling in the first place. We breeze over things that should have hit much harder, like the demented travels of Carl and Sandy, the extended exploits of Willard, and the miserable lives of Roy and Theodore. However, the film’s narrative exposition was still a well-exercised tool throughout, as it did its absolute best to keep up with the most crucial facts, thoughts, and comments that needed to be shared with the audience.

It bears mentioning that there were some pivotal changes to the story that were strong narrative choices for the film. In particular, the decision to relocate Arvin’s swift delivery of justice upon the disgraceful preacher to the inside of the church felt very fitting, along with the misleading conversation that he initiated in the moments before pulling the trigger. Arvin’s story as a whole also felt more satisfying at the end when he hitches a ride with yet another stranger and contemplates who he is, what he’s done, who he will become.

In all truth, releasing the full gamut of darkness contained within the story may have proven to have been too difficult to watch. A scene late in the film, when Lee Bodecker discovers the horrifying collection of Carl and Sandy’s film negatives, flirts briefly with the even more vile undertones that lie beneath. I would recommend this film to someone that’s read the book and is already familiar with the dark and sick spaces that these characters inhabit within their heads, as it slowly brings the everything full circle by providing a visual for the faces and places that make up this bleak tale.

The Devil All The Time is now streaming on Netflix.

Lindsey joined the Nerds and Beyond team in 2018. If she's not writing or out and about with her camera, she's probably watching anime, nerding out over Star Wars, reading manga, and definitely forgetting to water her plants. And waiting for the Genshin loading screen to pop up. Contact: lindsey@nerdsandbeyond.com

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