Spiderman, Edward Cullen, Pennywise, and Dudley Dursley walk onto a film set; sounds like the start of an amusing joke, right? Well, the 2020 Netflix Original, The Devil All the Time, made this mashup of misfit toys into a reality when they cast them alongside other talented actors for the darkest version of Love, Actually possible. With his mother dead, father dead, and even dog dead, little orphan Arvin (Tom Holland) moves in with his paternal grandmother (Kristin Griffith). As resilience molds him into a tenacious young man, Arden’s reaction to malevolence is thoroughly tested as he encounters instances of corruption, torture, and murder. With a lineup of sinister storylines and rattling performances, the film dares to answer the question: Can good truly come from evil?
Right off the bat, The Devil All the Time is unapologetic in its powerful exposure of religious hypocrisy. Cleverly highlighting the attraction to and dangers of insincere piety, two Harry Potter alumni (Harry Melling and Robert Pattinson) venture out of their comfort zones to deliver evangelical performances so compelling, Kenneth Copeland would be proud. Melling goes to the lengths of dousing himself with live spiders while Pattinson trades his British accent and chummy mien for a southern twang so tart and a demeanor so vulgar, it’s hard not to sprout goosebumps.
Another stand-out performance comes from the film’s slightly more demented version of Bonnie and Clyde, known as Sandy (Riley Keough) and Carl (Jason Clarke). From her soft lip bites to the perpetual glint of anxiety lurking in her aquamarine eyes, Keough keeps the audience on pins and needles as her character debates staying with Carl and continuing to tarnish any ounce of morality she has left. Clarke is riveting in a separate fashion. His sometimes sadistic, other times gleeful smile is taunting, keeping victims unsure of his true nature.
The Devil All the Time is unique in that the protagonists are highly outnumbered as well as difficult to identify. The film keeps up a logical pace as it appropriately allocates time to each storyline in intervals. Learning more about each character in a spaced-out fashion shapes their development into a slow-burn. For example, Arden’s father, Willard (Bill Skarsgård), is a rugged war hero who proves to be quite likable as he and his wife, Charlotte (Haley Bennett), start their family. Then Charlotte takes ill, and Willard crucifies his son’s dog as a sacrificial offering. Though done with good intentions, it reveals that Willard is losing his mind and will not end up a reliable character. The movie’s characterization proves a fun guessing game with Holland fully embodying reputable Arden to serve as the film’s only constant.
The movie’s tone is grim (like pitch-black, no happiness for miles sort of grim). This gloomy nature is not a negative as it allows the flourishment of grotesquely craveable narratives as they are told in a manner so explicit, the result is only keen for those not faint of heart. For lovers of twisted history, adventure junkies, and even horrorphiles, The Devil All The Time is a well-rounded, cunningly connected tale that will sink in its talons without any intention of releasing until long after the credits have rolled.