Tom Holland is a golden child of Hollywood right now. His role as Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has drawn praise from critics and fans alike. He’s also done voice acting in films like Pixar’s Onward. However, he hadn’t had a shot at a serious role. The Devil All the Time, one of Netflix’s most recent original films, provided Holland a platform to show the range of his acting chops. He absolutely delivers, even if the film isn’t as great as he is.
Based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time follows several intersecting storylines set in Ohio during the ‘50s and ‘60s. Holland plays Arvin Russell, a young man growing up in a small town while trying to protect his stepsister from harm. Alongside Arvin’s storyline, the film follows Arvin’s father, a couple of serial killers and a small town sheriff.
The Devil All the Time has one of the most impressive ensemble casts seen in recent years, including Holland, Robert Pattinson and Bill Skarsgård. Holland shows a new range of talent that fans haven’t seen from him before, and he is stellar. He’s violent and angry but also caring for those who matter to him. Without spoiling his character, co-star Pattinson continues to show that he’s much more than a sparkly vampire from Twilight. All of the acting is fantastic. The rest of the film is more of a mixed bag.
One of the central themes of the film is faith. This is something that a movie with more subtlety may be able to weave discreetly into the narrative. Instead, the movie reminds the audience constantly. Some characters pray — only for their prayers to go unanswered. One of the central characters is a corrupt priest. Having religion be a core focus is fine, but the writers need to go beyond the surface level. Nothing deep is explored. It encourages no introspection, so the viewer will likely leave the film feeling unchanged.
The film is commendable for its unwavering tone. The depressing mood is set by dark and dreary colors, captured by a camera that rarely moves faster than a snail’s pace. The forest setting of Ohio is gorgeous, and it surrounds the characters like a prison that they can’t escape. This is accentuated by a strange but fitting soundtrack filled with slow builds and unsettling strings. Composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans appear to have been influenced by the fantastic soundtrack of Midsommar from last year.
Intersecting storylines can be very gripping if used with the right material. Unfortunately, in The Devil All the Time, each plot has very little to do with each other. The main plot with Alvin Russell is the most entertaining. The serial killer storyline is, surprisingly, the least investing despite some strong growth from Riley Keough’s character. These threads remain apart for 90 percent of the movie, and their sparse interactions are underwhelming.
This film probably would’ve released into obscurity had it not been for the fantastic cast. Beyond that and some great cinematography, the film is a pretty standard smalltown thriller — the type that usually gets thrown into theaters, makes its budget back and is immediately forgotten by the masses. If nothing else, it does allow actors like Holland to show how talented they are and what they’ll bring to more substantial films in the future.