Review: The Devil All the Time

Daniel Ketchelos- Staff Writer

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Hypocrisy, deception, and violence are not foreign concepts to those living in Knockemstiff, Ohio. The recent Netflix adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s novel, The Devil All the Time, explores themes surrounding the constant presence of evil in the world.  

The devil does not rest in post-World War II rural America. Serial killers, corrupt officials, and twisted Christianity dominate these backwoods. The main character, Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), seeks to understand why bad things keep happening to good people. 

One of the central themes of this film is the absence of God. Individuals cry out to Him but are unable to hear His reply. Many of the behaviors in this film are representative of the individual struggle to hear God speak. Corrupt preacher Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), goes to extreme lengths to urge God to connect with him. In an especially grueling scene, Reverend Roy pours an entire mason jar of large spiders onto his face during a sermon. Roy seeks to hear from God, so he tests God by asking Him to protect him through adverse conditions.  

Other themes found in this film include death, responding to evil, and corrupt officials. Many of the evil tendencies result from characters dealing with the deaths of others. Violence sparks violence in this film, and the evils only get worse. Another corrupt preacher, Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), seduces young and oblivious church girls into sexual relationships with him. Husband-wife serial killers, Carl (Jason Clarke), and Sandy Henderson (Riley Keough), travel throughout the backwoods in search of their next victims. There is no shortage of evil characters in this film, and eventually, Arvin collides with all of them.

Strong acting, gritty visuals, and important themes are strong points in The Devil All the Time. These evil characters are performed well by the cast. Accents are hard to pull off, but Robert Pattinson, and the rest of the cast, create realistic portrayals of southern dialects. The visuals also fit the darker themes. Cinematographer Lol Crawley and director Antonio Campos decided to step away from digital recording in favor of shooting the entire piece on 35mm film. Shooting on film complements the dark themes by adding gritty textures and more muted colors. The themes found throughout leave the viewer questioning why good people are treated badly.

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There were many hard elements to take in while viewing this piece, and there was a lot I did not enjoy about the film. First, it has an immense amount of gruesome violence. In one scene, a military soldier is shown slathered with blood and hanging from a cross by pocket-knives. Later, a woman is stabbed in the neck with a screwdriver spilling blood from her neck. Also, the serial-killer-duo is not afraid of violently killing their victims in the strangest way possible. If you cannot handle extreme violence, do not watch this film. Christian ideals are also represented poorly. While it is understandable to show corruption in the church, the lack of redemption is the issue. This film portrays Christians in a cult-like manner and does not show an accurate representation of proper Christianity. Despite this, Campos accurately showed what corruption in the church can look like. The biggest issue I had was the constant narration throughout the film. This continually distracted me and made the film less effective. If they only used narration at the beginning of the film, or even cut it completely it would have been a much stronger piece. 

I found The Devil All the Time to be an accurate, time-specific piece exploring gruesome themes. Many directors shy away from stories that are hard to tell, but I wish that Campos had incorporated more redemption into this film. If you have Netflix, I would only recommend watching this if you are not easily disturbed by extreme violence or sexual content. Overall, my rating is a 5.5/10 because of extreme violence and lack of redemption.

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