Netflix’s newest adaption, “The Devil All the Time,” stars a cast with big names – like Robert Patterson and Tom Holland – whose characters have sinister pasts. The thriller layers multiple plotlines dispersed between the two small towns of Coal River, West Virginia and Knockemstiff, Ohio.
The film begins with the introduction of Willard Russel (Bill Skarsgård). His military background in World War II is a breeding ground for trauma but does not stop him from returning to daily life and starting a family. Despite his service, Willard and his family are seen as outsiders.
Arvin Russel, played by Tom Holland for a majority of the film, lives a typical small-town American childhood, complete with being bullied. He relies heavily on his father to teach him how to stand up for himself, learning that “some people are born to be buried.” It’s an early introduction to the theme of justice within the film.
However, “The Devil All the Time” looks at the uncontrollability of life as well. Willard’s wife is dying of cancer. With this movie being set in post-World War II, there is little medical knowledge to save her and Willard turns to frantic prayer.
Religious tones are heavy within the film, but not in the way one would expect. A somber mood looms over every scene. Almost all the characters live ambiguously, acting of their own accord with little thought of how their consequences will affect anyone. As the twisted scenes play out, one cannot help but ask “Why has God abandoned them?”
Willard crucifies their beloved family dog as a sacrifice to save his wife. She dies anyway and, overcome with grief, Willard also ends up taking his own life. This movie is not for the faint of heart.
Arvin’s story truly begins to progress when he is sent out to West Virginia to live with his grandparents and fellow orphan Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). Her traumatic childhood bonds the two just as close as any kin despite their two characters being foils of one another.
Lenora is extremely pious. She visits her mother’s grave every day to pray and has forgiven her father for murdering her mother. Arvin, on the other hand, chooses to harbor resentment for God. In his eyes, he had taken both his father and mother. Yet, the world is not as black and white as it would seem.
Seeing her interaction with Robert Patterson’s bonechilling performance as the preacher adds a whole new level of questions to this film. How could someone be so vile? How could he live with himself after taking advantage of all those people? The list goes on.
I appreciated the complexity of the storyline. The filmmakers did a commendable job at taking each character’s personal experiences and tying them into the overall story arc. Each character feels real. Every conflict lines together making every character feel like a main character. Even the newly introduced characters that seem to have no connection to the rest of the story have their plotlines interwoven at some point in the film.
The imagery of the film is intense and captures the starling nature of both earth and humanity. Visual and plot are pulled together in a grisly little package with narration from Donald Ray Pollok, the author of the novel this film was adapted from. He speaks with conviction, spinning a fascinating tale of zealousness within the rural roots of evangelical Christian America.
“The Devil All the Time” is a movie I would eagerly recommend. Everything about it was well done and the parallels within sets perfectly highlights the contrast of good and evil. The pacing is slow, with a 136-minute run time, leaving no time to breathe as audiences are battered with gruesomeness in every frame. The film is not for everyone. There are dark themes such as suicide and sexual abuse throughout the story, but for those that thrive off gritty thrillers then this is definitely the movie for you.