‘The Devil All the Time‘ is a Southern gothic psychological thriller, adapted from the fictional novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, who also narrates the film. It is directed by Antonio Campos and features an ensemble cast.
The plot follows several plot lines that converge at one point. Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) and his step-sister Lenora Laferty (Eliza Scanlen) are two orphans who lost their parents when they were young. Through flashbacks, we see that Lenora’s father Roy (Harry Melling) murdered her mother Helen (Mia Wasikowska) in a misguided attempt to resurrect her. Roy is also the first victim of serial murderers Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough). Arvin’s father and World War 2 veteran Willard (Bill Skarsgård) kills himself in front of his homemade cross after an attempt to sacrifice the family pet fails to cure his wife Charlotte (Haley Bennett) of terminal cancer. Arvin and Lenora are living in a small town where the new preacher Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) arrives at their local parish, but sinister motives seem to be all around. Likewise, Sandy’s brother Sheriff Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan) is running for re-election, but his growing corruption could halt him.
This movie takes four very different storylines and drives them to one climax that, while it does wrap everything up in a bow, it is not tight. You are still confused because there was so much to keep track of including some plot points that made you wonder why they were in the first place. For example, Carl, Lee, and Sandy’s longterm story-arc had virtually no impact on the plot, and everything they were connected to could honestly have been cut and replaced with simpler sequences. Quite frankly, the film would have been better for it. Now, in the novel, it may have made more sense. I do not know, I have not read it.
Now, the acting was tremendous. Everyone does an excellent job with their role. Tom Holland in particular truly stood out, proving his acting chops apart from web-slinging. Likewise, Bill Skarsgård does a good job with his character. His character’s manic personality came out harshly and he played the character to perfection.
As for the “feels,” it does deliver. You felt terror and disgust throughout the story. Each impact of the frightening circumstances had on the various characters left an impression. This is a credit to the music done by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. The scenes had perfectly timed scores to make your skin crawl on cue. This is also true of the cinematography, done by Lol Crawley. It was well-done and impressive.
Where the film fails is in its complete lack of someone to cheer on. Every character, maybe with the exception of Holland’s Arvin and Scanlen’s Lenora, is completely unlikable. At one point, they try to make Sandy feel empathetic, but it was difficult since you know she and her husband have been murdering and photographing victims for years. It is not that the movie makes you uncomfortable, that happens often, but without a protagonist, you do not understand why you should care about the fate of these horrible people. As I stated, Arvin and Lenora come the closest, but because it spends so much time on flashbacks, you do not get to know him other than he does not pray and she prays all of the time.
The story is also told in incredibly graphic detail. We are treated to bloody bodies, dead animals, torture, gunshots, disease, and it did a good job of unsettling you, but at one point I asked, “Is all of this necessary?” The short answer is: “No.” All of the graphic content did nothing to lift the film and only made me anxious for it to be over.
This is compounded by its lack of understanding and outright fear of faith. Each person who claims to be a Christian is either a gullible zealot or a sinister fraud. From animal and human sacrifices to predatory behavior to murder to hypocrisy, we are treated to every negative and exaggerated stereotype of churchgoers that you could possibly imagine. This made them seem flat and unrealistic. Now, I have seen movies with honest criticisms of people of faith, this one seemed like the screenwriters just did research on what nonbelievers who have never met a Christian think Christians are like.
Bottom line, The Devil All the Time is an unpleasant and graphic movie that you wish was over before its time. It is not enjoyable, entertaining, and makes your stomach churn for all of the wrong reasons.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Sexual content, Heavily disturbing images, Strong foul language, Bloody violence, Substance abuse
FAVORITE QUOTE: Do you ever think about how we ended up orphans living in the same house?
Check out the trailer below:
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