LONDON: The star-studded cast of “The Devil All the Time” promises big things. Tom Holland and Sebastian Stan (both mainstays of the Marvel cinematic universe), Bill Skarsgård (fresh from traumatizing a new generation in the “It” movie remakes), Jason Clarke (“First Man” and “Pet Sematary”) and new Batman Robert Pattinson all signed on for this Netflix thriller, directed and co-written by Antonio Campos, one of the filmmakers involved in the recent COVID-era anthology “Homemade.”
Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who takes a turn as the movie’s narrator, “The Devil All the Time” follows a disparate group of characters in post-war Ohio and West Virginia. Returning soldier Willard Russell (Skarsgård ) believes he’s left the war behind him when he meets waitress Charlotte (Haley Bennett). The two have a son, Arvin. But despite these positive overtones, Campos’ world is one of ever-present menace, with corrupt officials, twisted lovers and charlatan preachers behind seemingly every corner, waiting to sully any glimmer of optimism with depravity.
Adult Arvin (played with surprising grit and gravitas by Holland, better known for his bright-and-breezy Spider-Man) struggles to cope with the brutality of the world as it batters him at every turn. When vile preacher Preston Teagardin (Pattinson) rolls into town, his sinister intentions are telegraphed from the get go and, unsurprisingly, his predatory nature kickstarts a chain of events that lifts the lid on the darkest possible side of 1960s USA.
Holland is a joy to watch, his dramatic heft belying his young age. Pattinson is, quite simply, horrifically intoxicating, throwing himself into the role with all the sneering vileness he can muster. The two Brits steal the lion’s share of the limelight, but Campos’ film benefits from the high-caliber ensemble. Simply by pointing a camera at them, the director is onto a winner.
The movie doesn’t shy away from violence, and some scenes are a little tough to take. And it’s an unrelenting second half as Holland’s world comes tumbling down in relatively short order. “The Devil Al the Time” is a brutal, visceral experience. But great performances from a stellar cast make it an engaging one.