Sinister plot with a confluence between faith and evil? Check. Dark, gritty cinematography? Check. A star-studded cast to portray morally questionable characters? Check. Is The Devil All The Time your next 2-hour Netflix guilty pleasure? Hell, yes.
Based on the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock and directed by Antonio Campos, this gritty thriller is like a Ferris wheel ride: moving in circles, with some people getting on, some people getting off, some people being thrown off or jumping, and you in the middle, confused, horrified but also, and you might not want to admit it, entertained.
Keeping up with their trajectory of must-watch binge-worthy content, Netflix released The Devil All the Time yesterday, 16 September. When I watched the preview, I thought “is this a movie or an 8 part miniseries?”. The preview is DENSE but has no match against the actual film. Spanning roughly 20 years and more than 8 individual character plotlines which run parallel, you’re in for a wild ride of seemingly never-ending death, love, more death, serial killers, vengeance, crazy preachers, orphans, and a whole lot more.
At the centre of the film, there is Arvin, an orphan, who for all the effort in the world can not seem to escape the death of family members, whether by suicide, unfortunate illness, or religious sacrifices. His father is a World War 2 soldier, forever scarred not only by the atrocities of war but also witnessing the crucifixion of a fellow soldier. This scene sets the mood for the rest of the film to follow – it tests the limits of faith and religion by weighing it up against the evil possibilities of self-righteousness.
Arvin grows up in his grandmother’s home along with “step sister” Lenore, also orphaned, and they form a strong familial bond. Lenore, who has committed her entire life to her religion, becomes enamoured by a new preacher who manipulates her to test the extent of her devotion. Arvin, plagued by the memories of a traumatic childhood, sets out to right what is wrong in the world, but as he soon learns, there is evil in everything and everyone, and the murder of one only uncovers that of the next and the next and next. The devil is indeed there all the time.
The setting of the film lends itself beautifully to the grim narrative. Set in small conservative towns in the south like Knockemstiff, Ohio and Coal Creek, West Virginia, where the days are laborious, money sparse, and contact with the outside world basically non-existent, it’s not difficult to imagine a world of serial killer couples who pick up hitchhikers to murder, corrupt sheriffs, and preachers believing they have the power of resurrection.
This film reminds me of the relationship I had with Game of Thrones characters – don’t get too attached because no one is irreplaceable. And indeed, as soon as one new character enters this narrative, it is quickly replaced with the next. At times, it can feel as if the misery of the narrative is too much, but the film never drags and the story is still fast-paced despite its low retention rate of individual plotlines.
Some stellar performances that are worth mentioning are Bill Skarsgard as Willard Russell, Arvin’s father, who beautifully portrays the struggle of post-war PTSD, Robert Pattinson as the perverted and evil Preacher Teagardin, Harry Melling as (another) overzealous preacher who introduces live spiders in his sermons to dramatically convey his message of the power of fear, and Tom Holland as an adult Arvin. As I mentioned, this film has no shortage of talented actors and at times I wished they had more screen time.
The Devil All the Time is a kaleidoscope of narratives and digs deep into the human psyche, experimenting with lust, evil and spiritual devotion. Campos set out to explore the darkest recesses of desire and portrays this extremely well in a film that will no doubt be very upsetting to some, but fascinating to (hopefully) most.