This film feels like a compilation of several independently shot stories that make no coherent sense as one film. It’s through a dysfunctional and disorientating timeline, jumping from storyline to storyline with little linkage, rushing to finish each character arc without a nod to the others. The Devil All the Time, Netflix’s summer epic, has a star-studded cast and should by association be the film of the summer. It isn’t.
It would be an understatement to call The Devil All the Time a slow burner; it has a quiet focus on scenery rather than plot, leaving standout performances from Tom Holland and Rob Pattinson to save the film. This is even more of an issue given Holland’s adolescent Arvin and Pattinson’s insane Reverend Teagardin are not introduced until nearly halfway through. It’s a long first half.
In other circumstances, such a spree of murders, abuse of power and religious corruption would have been darkly entertaining yet this film delivers it with such nonchalance that it’s almost unnoticeable. It’s beautifully shot but painfully slow, valuing style over substance with such obviousness that even the chirping of birds gets tiresome. I found myself checking the remaining run time every ten minutes, hoping that the film would approach some kind of climax but it stayed stubbornly at the same plodding pace without picking up speed.
It isn’t just the offensively slow pace at which the film progresses that prickled my skin as I watched it. The female characters were, as identified by Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair, brutally disposed of. When they were alive, the women served the men. Haley Bennett is sweet as ‘Charlotte Russell’ but, like Mia Wasikowska’s ‘Helen’, serves at best as a plot progressor and at worst a justification for male grief and violence. Wasikowska is reduced from her usual excellency to a one-dimensional role of a downtrodden, meek ‘Helen Hatton’ subject to the cruelty of Harry Melling’s admittedly excellent ‘Roy Laferty’. It’s excruciating to watch; Helen’s fate is obviously foregrounded enough that the resultant scene is almost a ‘gotcha!’ moment.
It isn’t just Wasikowska’s female character who meets a bitter end – although the men rarely fare any better. Riley Keogh’s ‘Sandy’, a rare survivor, functions as a tempting accessory for young men. She’s an attractive carrot dangled to facilitate the male character’s action; other than looking pretty, she doesn’t do much at all. It’s a shame. Even Jason Clarke is tedious in this film; he isn’t threatening as he wields his weapon, only predictable.
There’s something missing with The Devil All the Time. Maybe I should have watched it on 2x speed like a boring lecture. I’d advise you not to bother – this is yet another disappointing film with an impressive cast that, amazingly, even Rob Pattinson’s Reverend Teagardin shouting “delusionssssssss!” could not save. Watch that clip on YouTube – it’ll save you some time.
Image Credit: IMDb