Does watching depravity play out on screen ever truly get old? An invariable slew of gritty, violent dramatic works finds its way to cinemas or our favorite streaming platforms at a fairly regular pace. And honestly, why wouldn’t it, when fiction provides such a safe avenue to examine the darkest depths of the human condition? Actors also get a chance to chew a good amount of scenery and test their true range at their craft. That’s a win-win situation, for sure.
That said, it’s not enough that Hollywood makes patently unforgiving cinema okay or even just good. Rather, I’m looking for something extraordinary so the byproducts of heartache and exhaustion are worth the cinematic ride. Several factors come into play to make that possible, but getting the right filmmaker and cast on board is a great first step to really inspiring movie magic.
So, when I read that Antonio Campos – the director of such intense gems as Afterschool and Christine – had set yet another project, that’s when I knew to be riveted. Even if I’m a little scared of what’s to come.
Despite Campos’ busy schedule, which includes the horror flick Splitfoot and a prequel to the supernatural romp The Omen, now Deadline shares the news that he will add The Devil All the Time to his directorial slate. The film will be an adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock‘s novel of the same name. Campos and his brother, Paulo Campos, adapted the book into a screenplay.
A star-studded cast is currently lined up for the picture. Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Chris Evans (the Captain America series), Robert Pattinson (The Lost City of Z), Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right), and Tracy Letts (Lady Bird) are in negotiations to lead The Devil All the Time. And fun fact, Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners), who doesn’t have an onscreen role in the film (…yet?), will be part of the producing team, too.
Set in the small rural community of Knockemstiff, Ohio, The Devil All the Time is an all-or-nothing kind of story spanning decades. A vast cast of characters must deal with staggering notions of faith and redemption. However, as violence mires up the process of soul-searching and self-discovery, the line between good and evil blurs.
This bizarrely compelling and confronting drama finds a protagonist in Willard Russell, a military veteran hoping ardently to save his dying wife who resorts to religious sacrifice in his desperation. His son Arvin (Holland) is a bullied kid on the cusp of adulthood. He struggles with the harsh realities of his upbringing as he tries to be an upstanding person.
Meanwhile, Pollock’s sprawling book also zooms in on the exploits of a serial killer couple named Carl and Sandy, a “faith-testing” preacher called Roy, and a corrupt local sheriff (Evans). Therefore, evil is undoubtedly afoot in many shades and layers throughout The Devil All the Time, as if its title wasn’t enough of an indication of that fact.
Campos is a ferociously somber director, and a fitting choice to spearhead this Pollock adaptation. He has long paired his affinity for stylized cinema with distressing narratives. Afterschool — also known as Ezra Miller’s feature film acting debut — is an exceptionally aestheticized look at desensitization. A bullied high schooler played by Miller accidentally captures the drug-related deaths of two schoolmates on camera, and he falls into a further spiral of alienation in the aftermath. Through fostering stellar performances from his leads and employing cinematographic precision, Campos elevates a tried and true story about identity, acceptance, and responsibility to new and harrowing heights.
Next, Campos worked on Simon Killer, a putrid examination of a pitiful, manipulative man who resorts to violence in order to counteract his issues with control. Once again toying with the uneasiness of deliberate disengagement and the slippery insidiousness of personhood, Campos creates a pulsating and indulgent, but deeply disturbing character study. He showcases his deftness for working with actors as well, guiding Brady Corbet through a showstopping performance.
I’m of the opinion that Christine is Campos’ best film to date, though. It’s great that he finally shows a flair for working with female protagonists (something that he’s continued in television with The Sinner). In Christine, Campos translates Craig Shilowich’s script into a depressing portrait of an abrasive woman who we can’t help but attempt to understand, in spite of her contradictory nature and utmost intensity. Rebecca Hall, embodying the eponymous role of ill-fated news reporter Christine Chubbuck, has never been more electric onscreen either. She is frantic yet luminous in this grim biographical drama.
Hence, I fully expect that The Devil All the Time will make us writhe. There’s even a guarantee that the signature potency of Campos’ films will be retained in this project considering its acting slate thus far. Of all the stars announced, Deadline specifically revealed roles for Holland and Evans, but some logical guesses can be made for Pattinson, Wasikowska, and Letts.
Between The Impossible, The Lost City of Z, and even his outings as a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Holland is an ideal protagonist to root for already. Even at his most petulant, his good-natured side ensures that his performances are anything but one-note. Holland often wears his heart on his sleeve on screen, and his portrayals are effortlessly wounding. Although he has to tap into some rougher and more dangerous traits to complete Arvin’s internal duality — which is something we’ve not seen from him before — he’s ready for a role as volatile as this one.
In comparison, getting to portray an unsavory law enforcer would do wonders to beef up Evans’ recent filmography, too. His reputation as the pristine and morally just Steve Rogers isn’t a bad one, by far. Nevertheless, a shake-up of expectations is thoroughly welcomed, especially one similar to Evans’ more unnerving roles in productions like Puncture, The Iceman, and Snowpiercer. Despite being mostly known for playing a good guy, Evans is versatile enough to go dark. And if The Devil All the Time lets him delve into a role that’s properly cruel, that would be a fascinating next step in his career.
After teaming up for both David Cronenberg’s bitingly satirical Maps to the Stars and the Zellner brothers’ unconventional western comedy Damsel, Pattinson and Wasikowska have proven their mettle as a twisted, fiery match time and time again. For my money, they are ideal candidates to play the serial killer lovers in The Devil All the Time.
Individually, Pattinson and Wasikowska have portrayed off-beat characters of different varieties in the past, as it is. The Safdies’ Good Time is a prime example of Pattinson’s ability to disappear into an intense and deeply conflicted role. His turn in Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is also suitably reptilian, with an explosive personality bubbling beneath a hyper-controlled exterior.
Among Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, Wasikowska relishes in different kinds of characters who exist on the fringe. In the former, she’s an idiosyncratic teenager with ice in her veins — methodical and difficult to read, but absolutely magnetic. On the other hand, Wasikowska is an unbridled scene-stealer in the latter. As an uninhibited vampire, she is delightfully amoral and absolutely infectious, and it’s a damn big feat to nab the spotlight from Tilda Swinton.
Last but not least, Letts — who could perhaps play the unconventional priest in question — rounds out the cast list of The Devil All the Time with a dose of familiarity, if only because he has worked with Campos in the past. Letts fills the shoes of Hall’s combative, unappeasable boss in Christine. Plus, although he’s no stranger to leading roles, several of his popular big-screen credits prove that he’s an asset of a character actor. Who would Saoirse Ronan’s chaotic protagonist be without her empathetic father in Lady Bird? Letts also features in The Post and The Big Short, both of which rely heavily on strength in numbers when their casts are concerned.
Ultimately, while I say that The Devil All the Time sounds like a walk in the park, not all movies are meant to be enjoyed. This promising collaboration of actors is bound to flourish under Campos’ unique visionary guidance. We’re not emotionally prepared, but we need this movie now.