The new Netflix film The Devil All The Time is the furthest thing from a feel-good family film. It’s dark and depressing, full of very gray characters doing very gray things, leading to a gloomy outcome for nearly all involved. In other words, it’s like real life.
Based on Donald Ray Pollock’s award-winning novel of the same name, the film follows a family in a time period between the end of WWII and the beginning of the Vietnam war. It is set in the southeastern part of Ohio and parts of West Virginia, known primarily for its salt-of-the-earth coal miners and their kin.
The Devil All The Time stars a veritable who’s who of comic book movie and other popular genre actors, and even Elvis Presley’s granddaughter. The movie follows two generations of the Russell family, as Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) returns home after fighting in Europe during World War II. He meets his future wife, Charlotte (Haley Bennett) who works in a diner, and they settle down as a family in Knockemstiff, Ohio.
Willard was raised in a highly-religious family, but after seeing the horrors of war, his belief in a higher power is called into question. He quickly returns to the fold when Charlotte gets cancer, and he and his son, Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta) pray constantly for the lord to save her. When the calls go unanswered, Willard loses his faith again, and Arvin is sent to live with his grandmother, Emma (Kristin Griffith), and Uncle Erskell (David Atkinson), who are also raising an orphan girl, Lenora (Ever Eloise Landrum).
The film, like the book on which it is based, tells multiple stories involving multiple characters — and not all in linear time. How Lenora came to be in the care of Emma and Uncle Erskell is but one plot point, which deals with a shock evangelist and his crippled cousin (Harry Melling and Pokey LaFarge) and Lenora’s mother (Mia Wasikowska).
There’s also a serial killing couple (Riley Keough and Jason Clarke), and a shady, corrupt Sheriff (Sebastian Stan), and all of them fail to hold a candle to the evil that is Reverend Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), who uses his place in the church to seduce now-teen Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) and other young girls. Teagardin sets off Lenora’s protective “stepbrother” Arvin (Tom Holland), which begins an explosive and violent third act when all of these threads miraculously come together to a rousing conclusion.
Director Antonio Campos (Christine, Marvel’s The Punisher) co-wrote the script with his brother, Paulo, and they were amazingly able to keep all these various threads of characters separate until they needed them to intersect with the other threads. Pollock’s novel is equally as jumbled, but both the book and film somehow seem to land it at the end, offering just the hint of hope.
It helps that Campos utilizes a narrator, played by Pollock himself, to help keep things straight. Much like the narration of author Jean Shepard makes 1983’s A Christmas Story an easy-to-follow classic, Pollock’s narration does much of the same here. Both films are made up of a series of vignettes that end up tying together to complete a story. Talk about two very different sides of a coin.
The Devil All The Time is not an easy film to watch. There are very dark themes, which tackle religion, sexual abuse with minors, murder, police corruption, ritual sacrifices, and more. In fact, it could be seen as offensive to some for the way Campos and his cast refuse to pull punches, and it’s the audience taking those blows over and over.
As long as you know going in that Spider-Man and the new Batman aren’t teaming up with The Winter Soldier and Terminator Genisys‘ John Connor for a fun family film, you will find an amazing slice of dark Americana that will haunt you well after the title card reads, “The End.”
The Devil All The Time is rated R and will be available on Netflix starting on Wednesday, September 16.
All images courtesy of Netflix.
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