The Devil All the Time (2020)

“Dear Grandma, I’m writing to you because I cannot say goodbye to your face. I love you, and I will always remember the things that you have done for me. What I’m about to do, I do because I have to. Not because I want to. Please do not try and find…“Dear Grandma, I’m writing to you because I cannot say goodbye to your face. I love you, and I will always remember the things that you have done for me. What I’m about to do, I do because I have to. Not because I want to. Please do not try and find…

“Dear Grandma, I’m writing to you because I cannot say goodbye to your face. I love you, and I will always remember the things that you have done for me. What I’m about to do, I do because I have to. Not because I want to. Please do not try and find me. Love, your grandson, Arvin.“

If there could be one word to describe Netflix movies, that word would be divisive. We’ve seen the greatness that is offered in films such as Roma, Marriage Story or the Irishman, but we’ve also seen the opposite end of that spectrum in 6 Underground, Triple Frontier, and Extraction. Given the track record, it’s easy to be an optimist and see the glass as half full in hoping that another top tier film will take the world by storm. That hope comes in a package that has some of the biggest names in Hollywood but even those big names cannot save this film from itself.

Based on the book of the same name written by Donald Ray Pollack, the trailer has made this look like a promising upper tier Netflix film given the star power of the cast. If this film would be judged solely on the performances alone, this would be a huge win for Netflix but most of the film feels off as if there is a huge puzzle piece missing from the final product. 

The Devil All the Time has some fantastic looking shots by cinematographer Lol Crawley. The scenery is gorgeous to behold as the story unfolds switching between the two towns. The set design perfectly fits the time period down to the last detail and the costume’s feel authentic to that area of the country. The story is narrated by the author of the book, Donald Ray Pollock – his narration feels out of place as soon as the film starts. Whenever a scene is narrated, the mood shifts taking away any emotional connection to the characters in that respective scene. 

Taking place immediately (well a few years) after World War II, between two small towns in Ohio and West Virginia – Coal Creek and Knockemstiff, Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) witnesses something horrific when fighting in the war in the south pacific. He carries that torturous feeling throughout the remainder of his life. His religion and his beliefs ultimately become his demise as Willards wife Charlotte (Haley Bennett) is diagnosed with Cancer. What Willard does because of his beliefs is in turn horrific setting off his son Arvin (Tom Holland) down a path that could have been avoided altogether. 

“What is it you’re most afraid of? Hmm? Because if your worst fear is rats, well, Satan will make sure you get your fill of them. Brothers and sisters, you’ll see them, eating away at you whilst you lay there unable to lift a single finger. And it won’t ever cease. A million years in eternity. Now, don’t even try and figure that up. Ain’t no human head big enough to calculate misery like that! Yeah? And really, brothers and sisters, ain’t no man ever been evil enough, not even that Hitler fella, come up with the ways Satan’s going to make them sinners pay come the Judgment Day!“

The woman Willard was set up to marry Helen (Mia Wasikowska) falls for a preacher named Roy (Harry Melling) who uses faith and religious belief to overcome his fear of spiders. After having an allergic reaction to a spider bite(how ironic), Roy commits a horrible act thinking he has this power within him to resurrect the dead. Roy and Helen leave their daughter Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) orphaned who becomes the step-sister to Arvin. Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough) are serial killers (well Carl is, Sandy is the accomplice) who pick up hitchhikers and murder them after Carl forces Sandy to have sex with them.

There is a lot of moving parts & pieces and story to tell with this sheer amount of characters. All these plot points must get established quickly to take any effect but the films snail like pacing prevents any connection from being established. The constant jumps between each storyline makes the film feel rushed and overstuffed with surface information leaving us with underwhelming action and character development. Any impact the action is supposed to have, is lost when the film gains any type of momentum. 

“Them boys might be bigger than you. But the next time one of them starts his s**t, I want you to finish it. You understand?“

The Devil All the Time asks more questions than its supposed to answer. Why should we care about any of these horrible characters? The only redeeming character is Holland’s Arvin but his hands aren’t clean either. There is very little chemistry between the actors and actresses on screen and some of the performances feel too styalized to fit into the actual world created. The entirety of Devil is just one disaster after the other – nothing of a sense of relief or positivity comes from any of the actions that play out. Cal & Sandy’s story feels incomplete – we’re introduced to them early on but their development in how they become who they are is utterly lost as other characters are in the forefront.

Given this amount of characters we aren’t given any sort of reason to identify with any of them. Although the story is meant to connect all of them together, that feeling is overshadowed by the acts of violence and viciousness. Even when Arvin confronts the preacher Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) about Lenora, there is no satisfaction in the outcome. It’s hard to find any remorse given the religious hypocrisy each character acts on. Certain scenes (and I won’t name any in particular) are extremely hard to watch making any kind of protagonist feel like the antagonist.

Overall, The Devil all the Time is a beautifully shot and looking film but the slow pacing and overstuffing of characters and plotlines to follow make this film feel like a complete misfire. The film offers spectacular individual performances by this star studded cast, but the performances alone cannot save this film from drowning. Perhaps this novel would be better served as a limited series allowing each character and storyline a chance to breathe. Other than that, there’s no true purpose to get too involved in this world or their lives. If I were to rate The Devil all the Time, I’d rate it a 2 out of 5. 

So, tell me guys, have you seen The Devil All the Time and if so, what do you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with me? Comment below or send me an email and let me know what you think. 

The Devil All the Time is directed by Antonio Campos is Rated R and has an 65% on Rotten Tomatoes. The Devil all the Time was released on September 16th, 2020 and has a runtime of 2 hours and 18 minutes. The Devil All the Time can be streamed on Netflix.

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*I do not own these photos used in this article; all rights reserved to the copyright holder*

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