By Leah Greenblatt
September 11, 2020 at 09:00 AM EDT
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Glen Wilson/Netflix

“There’s a lotta no-good sons of bitches out there,” one doomed character warns early on in The Devil All The Time. If he looked in the mirror, he might find another one; nearly every scene in director Antonio Campos’ sprawling Appalachian noir spills over with grifters and killers, deadbeats and delinquents, sorry bastards and lost causes.

It’s a lot of weight for one film to carry, both practically and psychologically. But more is the byword for a movie like Devil, out Sept. 16 on Netflix: More mood; more melodrama; more Bright Young Things than you could fit in a camper van, including Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgard, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan, Eliza Scanlen, and Mia Wasikowska.

Campos (Christine) will need every one of them and more to fill out his source material, Donald Ray Pollack’s lauded 2011 novel of the same name, which traces the convoluted threads between the citizens of two small towns in post-War America. Portentous exposition comes, too, with the early presence of an unnamed narrator as heavy on backwoods philosophy as fact.

Soon, though, the wizened, folksy voice that introduces the players recedes to let them tell their own unfortunate tales: a returning GI (Skarsgard) still half in the trenches in his mind; a true believer (Wasikowska) and the manic Pentecostal (The Old Guard’s Harry Melling) she pours every ounce of her faith into; an itinerant couple (Keough and Jason Clarke) finding their sexual kicks through increasingly dark means; a local sheriff (Stan) so openly on the take he practically lays out a welcome mat.

If these far-reaching tendrils of story have a center, it’s Holland and Scanlen’s Arven and Lenora, two teenage orphans determined to make their own family from the scraps of love and care they’re offered. Enter Preston Teagardin (Pattinson), a slick young preacher new to town but already practiced, he soon makes clear, in some very old tricks.

His may be the most flamboyant role in a film that often feels like a sort of young actors’ Olympics; a baroque showcase for Gen-Z refugees of the industry’s biggest franchises — Twilight, Spiderman, Harry Potter, and Alice in Wonderland among them — to showcase their indie bona fides. (That having so many Brits and Australians on set would also seem to be a recipe for misguided accents proves remarkably, relievingly untrue).

With a cast so large and so consistently good, it's nearly impossible to single out more than a few players, though it's maybe most gratifying to see Holland so far from Peter Parker mode; his performance is delicately underplayed, which is not a claim Pattinson can probably make with a straight face. But as he did in his preening turn as the Dauphin of France in last year's The King, the future Batman digs into his predatory minister with a kind of red-meat glee that's contagious. (Keough, too, brings remarkable nuance to a type of femme fatale too often left in two dimensions.)

That Campos manages to corral each one of them in under two and a half hours is no small achievement. But his greatest feat may be that he was able to wrangle a story as ripe and unwieldy as Devil at all — toeing a tricky line between art-house atmosphere and Southern Gothic soap opera, and somehow still managing to land on the grim side of fascinating. B+

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