The Devil All the Time leaves audiences confused with its ineffective storytelling
written by: NINA BENICH, staff writer
The Devil All The Time, released on Sept. 16, is Netflix’s new psychological thriller and period drama. The film stars actors Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson and Bill Skarsgård and is based on a book of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock.
The story explores topics both controversial and unnerving — such as the hypocrisy of religion and the nature of violence — while displaying numerous twists and turns that, while unexpected, add very little to the plot.
The film centers around our main character, Arvin Russell, and his struggles to survive in his hometown of Knockemstiff, Ohio. In Knockemstiff, devoutly god-fearing men thrive off of godless acts, and when seeking spiritual liberation, find only horrors.
At the beginning of the film, Skarsgård plays a young Arvin’s father, Willard Russell, whose violent nature and devotion to prayer go hand-in-hand, the latter showing when his wife is diagnosed with cancer. When she dies, Willard commits suicide out of grief, leaving Arvin traumatized, pulling toward the same violent acts he watched his father commit.
Willard’s hypocrisy shows as he leaves his son with the idea that redemption can only be achieved through brutality and revenge rather than prayer.
Shortly after the death of Arvin’s father, the film flashes forward, and we meet a young adult Arvin, now played by Holland.
While Arvin’s storyline is primary, numerous storylines unfold throughout the film, such as that of Pattinson’s character, Reverend Preston Teagardin. Reverend Preston is a sexually manipulative priest who makes a victim of Arvin’s stepsister.
Another storyline features a serial killer and his assistant (whose brother is the sherriff, played by Sebastian Stan) who make victims of male hitchhikers.
Although each storyline eventually connects, the plot unfolds at a slow pace and often carries away from the main conflict by adding weak plot points and even weaker characters.
For instance, the only character whose background the audience gets to explore is Arvin, while the supporting characters are flat. None of their upbringings are formally shown, but rather very briefly explained through a narration. One of the film’s only constant themes is the fact that violence is taught and handed down through generations rather than being inherent. In fact, later in the film, this theme is explored once again when Arvin’s stepsister Lenora, played by Eliza Scanlen, is harassed by the boys at school. Arvin brutally attacks them afterward, a scene accompanied by flashbacks of his father doing the same.
Additionally, before one of the key points of the film in which Arvin faces a turning point, he writes a letter to his mother before committing another act of violence. The letter reads, “It’s not that I want to do this, it’s that I have to.”
Although the film had few redeeming qualities, one that stood out was the cast’s exceptional acting. Holland and Pattinson are both British actors playing very Southern characters, but their accents are extremely convincing.
The two are able to perfectly display both insanity and composure within minutes of one another. Additionally, Skarsgård convinces the audience to both root for and despise his character in the brief thirty minutes he’s on screen.
Ultimately, the film’s numerous connected storylines twists and turns seem to be hurriedly thrown together at its end, creating a bit of a mess and a lost opportunity for an effective and striking conclusion.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment