Review: “The Devil All The Time” shows the dark side of a small town


Courtesy of Netflix

Sofia Mongillo

In the Netflix film “The Devil All The Time,” director Antonio Campos tells the story of a rural town in southern Ohio, built largely on corruption and menacing individuals in differing positions of power. The psychological thriller’s timeline drives through the end of World War II into the mid 1960s, as viewers watch a boy become a man in a town where violence and deception are in every corner.

Known mainly for his role as Spider-Man in the “Avengers” film series, British actor Tom Holland trades in his skin-tight suit and “spidey” senses for a baseball cap as he plays the protagonist Arvin Russell. He portrays Russell as a caring boy, whose upbringing is poisoned by violent acts both witnessed by and placed upon him.

As traumatizing moments of Arvin’s childhood are revealed, it becomes evident that these events greatly contribute to the person he grows up to be. Though a complex character, Holland seems to be a perfect fit to bring Arvin to life. His soft nature and impressive range of emotion make for a contrast to his usual roles, but the switch is worth the risk.

Alongside Holland is former “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson, who has gained even more fame in recent years due to his performances in “The Lighthouse” and “Tenet.” In this story, Pattinson takes on the role of the Reverend Preston Teagardin, a preacher based on the town of Knockemstiff.

While the Southern pastor seems to be charming on the surface and claims to be God-loving, certain individuals in the community come to learn that he uses his authority in a deceitful way. Through the acts of Reverend Teagardin as well as many others in Knockemstiff, audiences soon come to realize that this reoccurring abuse of power is a common pattern in the community.

Pattinson, who is also of British descent, is one of many foreign actors who had to take on the task of perfecting Southern gothic accents. Nearly the entire cast, which includes Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, who plays Helen Hatton, and Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård, who plays Arvin’s father Willard, had to transform their voices to fit the era and region where the story took place.

This vocal process meant not only sounding American, but warping their dialect and pronunciation in quite a locally specific way. While their successes in this aspect are quite impressive in their own ways, what is even more mind boggling is Pattinson’s own process to reach his character’s full potential.

Pattinson reportedly insisted on doing the work without any prior help from dialect coaches. He was so serious about taking on the project by himself, that he refused to act out Reverend Teagardin’s speaking voice until his first scene was being filmed. Nevertheless, co-stars, producers and even Campos were more than satisfied with the outcome. Pattinson’s high-pitched flair to the Southern voice is sure to leave audiences in awe.

Despite the film’s engaging plot, it is fairly easy to get lost in parts of narrative. Because accounts of the characters’ stories are not always shown in chronological order, it is not out of bounds to say that viewers may find themselves confused. Despite this, the ending to the rollercoaster ride of a plot comes together for a satisfying full-circle moment.

The way “The Devil All The Time” highlights the evil temptations of ordinary people in this small town is intriguing and riveting while being violently real at the same time. While the characters experience brutal events and inhabit dark thoughts, it is impossible for viewers not to see themselves in the lives of these realistic individuals.

The theme of savagery may not be relatable to all, but the disappointments one faces, specifically that of Arvin, can be felt on a personal level by everyone. Regardless, the narrative shows those who watch “The Devil All the Time” that despite the darkness that may lurk in those around us, and despite the devil that may be in all of us, we all have the ability to prevail.

Illustration by Ariel Landry
Illustration by Ariel Landry