I'm not sure what I was expecting going into this movie, but it certainly didn't conform to what expectations I had 😁 Which isn't to say anything negative about the film; far from it, I thought this was a really solid, enjoyable movie. I guess I just expected less intertwining, Tarantino-esque plotlines, and more Tom Holland revenge killing.
Still, the fact that I'm even bringing up Tarantino says a lot. The Devil All The Time also reminds me a lot of the Coen Brothers style of film making. It takes a deep dive into the lives of some backwater Americana communities, with a strong emphasis on character development and dumb happenchance, cleverly weaving together several disparate strands into a (fairly) cohesive whole. This isn't necessarily immediately apparent, and ultimately the main focus is on Holland's character throughout, but it does give the closing act some interesting moments of symmetry that work out well. Still, there is an element of overly lucky happenchance when two separate characters both end up being targeted by the same serial killers that did break me out of the plot a little, but it's a forgivable plot device and far less egregious than tricks less competent films would use to tie things together.
So we have an interesting, nuanced plot, in which bad things happen to normal people pretty much constantly. This breeds moments of dark humour, tense action, and dialogue-heavy scenes filled with emotion, all of which mean that the movie will be made or destroyed by its cast. Luckily, they got casting spot on. I find it interesting that Jake Gyllenhaal was on as producer, because he doesn't actually appear in the film, but he certainly wouldn't be out of place alongside the likes of Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, and Harry Melling (plus, of course, his prior castmate Holland). Everyone gives great performances, with some really interesting character work across the board, but Melling really stands out – he's having more than a small renaissance at the moment, what with his turns in Queen's Gambit and The Old Guard, and I'm very okay with that (he may well end up being the biggest breakout from Harry Potter after all!).
Equally worthy of note is the sequence between Pattinson and Holland, when the preacher is confronted for his predatory behaviour and pedophilic affairs. Pattinson does a fantastic job of descending from righteousness to arrogant fear, whilst Holland continues to prove that he's an exceptional rising talent.
The one negative I find in the film is probably evident from the list of actors above: the women. Don't get me wrong, the actresses all hold their own against their male counterparts, it's just that the story doesn't give them as many moments to deal with. For a film focusing on a period when suffrage was still a pipedream in many areas, perhaps this is forgivable, but in 2021 it is a little bit of a shame. Unless they're being manipulated by men into sex, they basically don't exist 🤷♀️
That aside, The Devil All The Time is a solid movie with a great cast and some excellent character moments, plenty of well-balanced tension, and more than a few unexpected moments. It might not quite be a modern Fargo or Pulp Fiction, but the very fact that it can be compared to those lofty heights is pretty darn praiseworthy enough.