Growing up in the South, the zealous sermons of firey pastors is what you hear on television, on street corners, and pretty much in any space. That aggressive religiosity marks the South, as both a marker of identity and the vehicle for a lot of its hate — a justification for centuries of racism and bigotry. For those of us accustomed to witnessing Evangelical sermons against our will, the particular brand of religion in The All the Time is not only disturbing but recognizable, while not Southern itself, it hits that raw nerve I have from growing up here.
A Netflix Original, directed by Antonio Campos, The Devil All The Time was adapted for the screen by Antonio and Paulo Campos and is based on the award-winning novel by Donald Ray Pollock. The film is mysterious, suspenseful, and unnerving. It maps out the violence that is hidden by religion: how the good causes the bad, and how the retribution isn’t always fitting.
The film is set in Knockemstiff, Ohio, and its neighboring backwoods. It features sinister characters — an unholy preacher, Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), a twisted couple, Carl and Sandy Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), and a crooked sheriff, Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan) — as they converge around young Arvin Russell (Tom Holland). The film is told through stories that weave in and out of time and focus on different characters as they convene in moments in Arvin’s life. The film co-stars Bill Skarsgård, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, Haley Bennett, and Pokey LaFarge and takes place across time and highlights the way that violence walks hand in hand with religion.
The Devil All The Time wastes no time dropping its audience into fear and death. While the pace of the film itself is slow and methodical, it is persistent. As each of the story’s revelations connects to Arvin’s life, a new violent act is shown and the narrative doesn’t add any reprieve. Cursed by tragedy continuously, Arvin is a character of circumstance but one moved to action. Instead of accepting corruption, he pushes it back, beating it back when he encounters it. That said, although Arvin is the center that every other element of the film connects to, he doesn’t have a lot of screen time. This makes Holland’s portrayal of Arvin all the more commendable.
When Holland is on screen, tragedy strikes, justice is enacted, and emotional connections are built. He makes the most of every minute he is on screen and stretches his acting chops. His accent is also well managed. He doesn’t slip in and out like some other actors masking their own accents in a regional American dialect. While it isn’t perfection, it is consistent, which lends to his ability to pull the audience into his heartbreaking moments. Arvin is a specter of justice, forced into it by circumstance.
Additionally, Pattinson as Preston Teagardin is uncomfortably slick and terrifyingly evil. While he is not the most overtly dangerous one of the antagonists in The Devil All The Time, he is the one who stands to get away with the most. Using God as a guise to control the women around him, Pattinson is a terrifying villain. He’s the one that builds trust and gaslights his victims into violence, stealing their agency with a prayer and absolving himself of his violence through hollow words delivered in front of a congregation. Beyond Pattinson and Holland, the rest of the cast also brings chilling performances. Stan is unrecognizable, Skarsgård is devout and depressing, and Clarke and Keough make a dangerously unbalanced pair that bring some of the more gruesome elements of the film.
Every piece of The Devil All The Time aims to wound its audience. This film is mean. It breaks you and it doesn’t build you back up. It maps out tragedy and “sin” running parallel to so-called piety. It pushes the viewer to look at the evil hiding in people who present themselves as good. While there is some catharsis in the just desserts served to some of the more villainous of those around Arvin, it doesn’t feel completely satisfying. But, that is the beauty of the film. It shows that evil is everywhere, that the Devil is around all the time, and that even those who claim absolution can bend your faith to their will.
The Devil All The Time is available exclusively on Netflix September 16, 2020.
The Devil All The Time
- Rating - 9/109/10
Every piece of The Devil All The Time aims to wound its audience. This film is mean. It breaks you and it doesn’t build you back up. It maps out tragedy and “sin” running parallel to so-called piety. It pushes the viewer to look at the evil hiding in people who present themselves as good.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.