The Devil all the Time

"The Devil All the Time" is a Netflix original film full of tragedy, gore and despair.

On Sept. 16, the Netflix original film “The Devil All the Time” was released, advertising a packed cast including Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson and Bill Skarsgård. The Netflix original is an adaptation of the twisted novel by Donald Ray Pollock, also the narrator of the film.

I went into watching “The Devil All the Time” thinking it was a horror drama because of the title but soon found out the title had a much more metaphorical meaning. It was not a horror in the sense of monsters, ghosts or exorcisms but in the sense of how brutally corrupt humanity is itself, in a very realistic way.

I was not prepared for the tragedy, gore and endless despair going into the film. This depressing drama runs at 2 hours and 18 minutes, with not one break from the sinister corruption of organized religion.

It wasn’t until the film was finally over that I understood the point of all the back-to-back tragic scenes. The fiction story seemed to not have one positive turning point throughout the entire journey. There are so many twisted characters that it could be overwhelming at times to keep track of all the separate storylines until they all intersect toward the end.

*Disclosure: The following information includes plot spoilers

The movie begins in the backwoods of a small town in Ohio after World War I. Over the span of many years, including both World Wars up to the 1960s, the most bizarre characters are exposed for secrets they would have carried to the grave.

First off, there is Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), a veteran tormented by PTSD from tragic experiences during the war. He makes it home from the carnage in the South Pacific, meets a girl named Charlotte (Haley Bennett), gets married and has a son named Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta). Russell struggled with his faith ever since witnessing one of his fellow soldiers get crucified by the Japanese army.

In the movie, every time Russell saw a cross, he saw his partner strung up begging for someone to put him out of his misery. But, when Russell’s wife gets sick and the doctors say there’s nothing they can do, he decides it’s time to start praying again. He makes a prayer log in the woods, and he and his son spend hours everyday begging God to save her. After months of not seeing any improvement in her cancer, Russell decides he needs to make a sacrifice to God —  shooting the family dog and hanging him on the prayer log seems to be the logical answer.

Arvin struggles with his relationship with his father after witnessing his furry friend get murdered and his mother passing away from the cancer. After the funeral, his father kills himself, deciding he can’t live without Charlotte, leaving 9-year-old Arvin to discover his body.

Arvin moves to West Virginia to live with his grandmother and uncle after becoming an orphan.

The film starts to follow a couple, Carl and Sandy Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), whose pastimes consist of picking up hitchhikers, taking pornographic photos of them with Sandy and then murdering them.

Though the serial killer couple doesn’t have much to do with Arvin — until the end — it adds just one more horrific element that “apparently” the film needed.

Throughout the film, teenager Arvin (Tom Holland) is caught in the crooked path of a spider-handling, murderous preacher (Harry Melling), a creepy nymphomaniac, pedophilic preacher (Robert Pattinson) and a corrupt, power-hungry cop (Sebastian Stan). He witnesses the gruesome suicide of his adopted sister (Eliza Scanlen) and has to deal with rotten bullies and the constant burden of having to support his family financially. Arvin has a very rough life, to say the least. Did you get all of that?

“The Devil All the Time” is filled with so much misfortune that it would’ve made better as a mini-series. There simply are too many things happening that it felt overwhelming at times.

The director, Antonio Campos, could’ve elaborated even more on each character and their backstories if he was given more time to do so. It’s also just a lot to handle emotionally at once — I might’ve shed a tear if I had felt closer to the characters, but there wasn’t enough time for that given there was a death every other scene.

I started to feel numb toward the middle of the film, as the deaths weren’t a surprise to me anymore. A lot of characters and themes get minimized more than they should because of the film’s broad capacity of events, but the narration done by the author allows some flow between one tragedy to the next.

The underlying meaning of the film is what turned things around for me — showing the corruption of organized religion, power hungry preachers consumed by mental illness and the twisted domino effect that can arise from one bad mistake.

The movie’s characters discover absolute horror caused by their own making, usually under the shadow of a cross.

Arvin’s life is molded into a slow-burning, rural gothic tale of tragedies outside of his control; nevertheless, he is persistent and is grateful for the minimal good he does experience. He is taught to fight violence with violence by his father, which leads his life to many catastrophes. No matter how hard the characters pray or how many gospels they recite, their lives are filled with monstrous moments they justify because of faith.

“The Devil All the Time” analyzes how faith and evil are often connected throughout the years, as men under religious authority commit nefarious crimes and their loyal flocks confuse this lawlessness with being of the Bible. This is a very dark story about various families impacted by murder and tragedy, and I would not recommend watching this if you’re having a good day, as it will most likely ruin it.

Campos shot “The Devil All the Time” on film, which is realistic to the time it was set in. These beautiful shots give the movie a factor of grittiness and authenticity that adds to the gothic vibe the story portrays.

Holland’s performance practically saves the overwhelming tale. His character’s flawless Southern accent, dark corrupted mind and raw emotion shows the broad spectrum of characters Holland can play.

Skarsgård’s performance was terrifyingly believable. A desperate, mentally ill man struggling from severe PTSD is not the easiest character to embody, but Skarsgård does it flawlessly.

On the other hand, Pattinson’s flamboyant, shocking adaptation of Reverend Preston was almost comical. His inconsistent accent was confusing, but he really took this character and ran with it, which shows how passionate of an actor he is, much like Nicolas Cage — not a positive comparison. Other than Pattinson, the performances were breathtaking, the shots were beautiful and the score by Joseph LoDuca was perfect. 

“The Devil All the Time” is a blunt collection of vignettes about violence and religion in the heart of the country. It is vicious and cruel in ways that will turn off a lot of viewers. I found Campos’ artistry and willingness to dig into the darkest aspects of the human condition dramatically rewarding enough, even if it came across as quite emotionally overwhelming.

You can watch the official Netflix trailer here.