The 400-Word Review: The Devil All the Time
By Sean Collier
September 20, 2020
“The Devil All the Time” is an okay film. It is, however, an excellent film for Netflix.
The distinguishing thing about the gothic drama, adapted from a novel by Donald Ray Pollock (who also serves as the film’s narrator), is how fast things happen. A major (and usually tragic) plot development occurs every few minutes; despite the film’s somewhat hefty 138-minute runtime, something stunning is always occurring.
That’s what makes it an ideal Netflix movie: You’re not going to have time to get bored and wander out of the room. Any time you consider hitting pause or finishing the movie later, a major character will find themselves suddenly dead. You’ll stick around just to figure out who’s next.
The film stretches over several decades in the middle of the 20th century, following loosely connected characters in a pair of hardscrabble midwestern towns. A few of the relevant denizens of Coal River, West Virginia, and Knockemstiff, Ohio: traumatized World War II veteran Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) and his new wife, Charlotte (Haley Bennett); their son, Arvin (first Michael Banks Repeta, later Tom Holland); demented-yet-charismatic preacher Roy Laferty (Harry Melling); lustful-yet-even-more-charismatic preacher Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson); corrupt-if-idealistic cop Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan) and his secretive, troubled sister, Sandy (Riley Keough); and a half-dozen worthy and essential others who I would name, but this paragraph is too long as it is.
It’s difficult to even hint at what will happen to all of these people, but much easier to say what “The Devil All the Time” is about. Every key development stems from some type of religious fervor; fundamentally, this is a story about people driven to desperate and often terrible deeds by the often twisted spiritual pressure and demands they perceive.
In conveying that, the film struggles. So much time is spent trying to fit in all the details and characters that getting around to the broader point is often an afterthought. Director Antonio Campos, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Paolo, has a firm handle on the mood of his film, but can only sometimes corral its momentum and message.
That’s what makes it merely an adequate film, overall; “The Devil All the Time” is unwieldy and more than a bit unsatisfying. At home on the couch, however — with a bushel of shocking scenes and even more good-to-great performances — it’s an easy choice for an engaging evening stream.
My Rating: 6/10
“The Devil All the Time” is now streaming on Netflix.