Many people have asked me if I have any movie recommendations to lift their souls during the perilous, dark times we’re living in with the COVID-19 pandemic still controlling the world. While there are numerous feel-good films perfect for our time, Netflix’s latest drama won’t serve as a mood-elevator.
Based on the best-selling novel by Donald Ray Pollock, “The Devil All the Time” emerges from a dire state and enters a nightmarish world full of evil and sin. Set during the 1950s and 60s in the coal country of Ohio, the film follows several violent, disturbed people in the deeply religious and corrupt town of Knockemstiff, whose devotion to their bad habits causes chaos and intermingling amongst each other.
Tom Holland stands out as the closest thing to a lead character as Arvin Russell, a deeply disturbed young man whose father Willard (an excellent Bill Skarsgard) unleashed traumatizing horror upon him after serving in World War II. As Arvin matures he’s unintentionally wrapped up by the backwards monsters of his town, including the manipulative Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), the psychopathic Carl Henderson (Jason Clarke) and his wife Sandy (Riley Keough), and the corrupt sheriff Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan). As Arvin defends himself and his step-sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) from the demons around him, he slowly falls back into his trauma and unleashes his inner rage.
Many will see the stellar cast and immediately be drawn to the film but what keeps you thinking about the film long after the credits roll is the brutal, disturbing premise and the array of evil characters who fill the screen. Director Antonio Campos excels at bringing to life this sinister tale through exploring the number of broken, lost characters who seem to be fueled by inflicting pain on one another.
Campos captures the harshness of rural America after the Second World War and the dangers weighing down Arvin and his emotions. Campos does an excellent job of both gripping up to our core and proving heart-stopping tension while also being grounded in investing his time to exploring the variety of demented characters he adapts to the screen. Campos has a strong dedication to the characters and wants us to remember each and every one of them for their unsettling attributes and atrocious actions, not giving us anyone in particular to root for besides Arvin.
The struggle in the film is that we have so many intriguing characters and only a limited time to get to know them. With so many characters the film struggles to let us deeply understand them and appreciate their unsettling characteristics. As the film goes from one story to another and often rushes through their time on screen, I couldn’t help but feel that a six-part mini-series would have served the story better and would have given us more to feel and think about.
Even though it can be frustrating to see the story rushed, the rich performances and gripping storyline consistently wrap you up in all the nightmarish conflict. Holland excels at portraying a broken soul hungry for peace, while Pattinson — whose southern accent is a bit forced — grabs us in every scene.
“The Devil All the Time” portrays a world of endless sin and suffering, one where violence and obsession control the lives of the men and women plaguing it. You may not appreciate every aspect of it and wish things were done a bit differently at times while the story was being adapted, yet from start to finish you won’t be able to turn away.