Story: An adaptation of a novel of the same name written by Donald Ray Pollock, who also serves as the film’s narrator.
Review: ‘The Devil All the Time’ begins with Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) teaching his 9-year-old son Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta) to be sincere in prayer. This follows Willard’s haunting memories in combat during World War II. Arvin is bullied at school, and his father instructs him to stand up for himself. The father-son dynamic leads the plot that introduces us to residents of two secluded American towns – Coal Creek, West Virginia and Knockemstiff, Ohio – both as harsh as they sound. Arvin (Tom Holland) grows up to encounter these people, as their lives intertwine in cruel ways.
Practically every scene is filled with gloom in some form or the other, besides the grim tonality set by cinematographer Lol Crawley. Nevertheless, the stellar ensemble cast makes the journey worthwhile, especially since few of the characters have redeeming qualities. Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy Henderson (Riley Keough) – a couple with a penchant for walking on the wild side, to put it mildly, meet at the same diner where Willard comes across his future wife, Charlotte (Haley Bennett). Numerous other plot-lines weave in and out, bringing us Sebastian Stan’s rendition of a corrupt cop in Lee Bodecker, Harry Melling as preacher Roy Laferty, and another preacher Preston Teagardin, played by Robert Pattinson at his devious best. If there’s still any doubt of Pattinson’s potential, his stellar performance here should lay them to rest for good.
The events between young Arvin and his father lay the foundations of who the boy eventually becomes. So, in a broad sense, this is a ‘coming of age’ tale, helmed by Tom Holland as Arvin grows older. It’s impossible not to root for him as Holland showcases the young man’s troubled upbringing with a lot of restraint. However, the mystery of watching these intricate narratives unfold over two hours and eighteen minutes is likely to divide audiences. The ethical implications of these characters’ actions due to their complex relationships with religion makes the film equally intriguing and challenging. Director Antonio Campos’ vision is unflinching but often begs the question – what’s the point of it all? The answer probably lies in the film’s title, and the wretchedness of being human, constantly in battle with our demons. ‘The Devil All the Time’ is relentlessly cynical in its onslaught, and certainly not for those put off by the darkness of human nature.