Faith is a powerful, dangerous force. Countless turn to religion for purpose and guidance, rather than face the bleak, random nature of existence. However, belief is not inexhaustible, and when confronted with tribulation, the unmistakable silence of the void can be misconstrued as indifference. Like many a spiritual quandary, the answer, more often than not, is an increased dosage of God. Although, upon the conclusion of THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020), I reckon one could just as easily stab their wife in the neck with a screwdriver, or crucify a beloved family pet, to get his attention. After all, the response would be the same; nothingness.
An adaptation of the Donald Ray Pollock novel – of which, I must confess I am not familiar – THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME is an extremely violent parable, all too eager to vilify the relentless search for divinity that the devout shoulder. Directed by Antonio Campos (CHRISTINE (2016)) and laced with a star-studded ensemble, the latest high-profile Netflix production will surely draw the immense viewership warranted of such a prestige picture. Alas, on the other side of a nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime, most will wonder why in the hell they pressed play in the first place.
It is approximately a ten-hour drive from Knockemstiff, Ohio, to Coal Creek, West Virginia, and Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) – the main artery of our story – is all too familiar with the ride. After the death of his mother, Charlotte (Haley Bennett), and father, Willard (Bill Skarsgård), Arvin migrated to the “Mountain State” where he was raised by his grandmother, Emma (Kristin Griffith).
Nearly a decade later, the vermin begin to come out of the woodwork. Arvin and his sister, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), another ill-fated soul, chance upon the new preacher, Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson). Her brother isn’t one for churchgoing, but Lenora, on the other hand, she and the reverend quickly strike up a connection.
Elsewhere, on the road between Meade and Coal Creek, Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough) offer a ride to their latest prop. Unaware that the next hitchhiker they pick up will be the last…dun dun dun! Oh, fear not, this is merely the plot’s skeletal structure, and, frankly, it’s a resolution anyone could anticipate, but I digress.
Out of mercy, should you choose to skip it, the savagery of THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME has been (mostly) omitted. I didn’t even touch on Helen (Mia Wasikowska), or Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan), each of whom has their berserk brush with crazed, thuggish riffraff. Mind you; their oversight was not out of sheer laziness. There is so much to unpack; bloated doesn’t even begin to describe this directionless narrative.
Look, you don’t need me to tell you how talented a cast comprised of Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Haley Bennett, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan, Mia Wasikowska, and Jason Clarke is. If you’re worried you might miss out on some profound performance, apart from Pattinson’s southern drawl, you’re not. Just know, THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME has trouble freeing itself from the mud and the blood, even with Pattinson, Holland, etc…pulling at the other end of the rope.
They say – “some people were born just so they could be buried” – and, I suppose, the same can be said about a bad movie.