The Devil All The Time is an interesting mix of backwoods politics, religious trauma, serial killers. None of those sound like particularly ‘sunny day’ topics by themselves, and adding them all together certainly brings a taxing amount of bleakness to the screen. Not without justification –there will be those who see this and condemn the violence and brutality – it is indeed a necessary evil for telling this story.
Director Antonio Campos, known for his previous film Christine – the true story of Christine Chubbuck, a depressed and frustrated reporter who committed suicide on live television – it is clear that Campos is interested in the darker corners of humanity. With a co-writing credit as well, Campos is able to explore even more depravity.
Set in rural Southeastern Ohio and West Virginia from the end of World War II and into the 1960s. Following a cast of compelling and downright evil characters as they pass in and out of each other’s lives and the lives of their children. The film explores everything from PTSD and gaslighting to suicide, religious opportunism, and necrophilia (I told you, depravity). You will be hard-pressed to find someone with clean hands, let alone a hero in this story. There is Willard Russel (Bill Skarsgård), a WWII vet returning home with a head full of atrocities and gore. He meets his wife Charlotte (Haley Bennett) at a Diner his first day home – in that same Diner that day we see how eventual serial killers Carl & Sandy Henderson meet for the first time as well. Willard and Charlotte have a son Arvin (Tom Holland), but his story won’t get started until 45 minutes into the film. The film starts post War and introduces us to the characters who will be seen throughout, as well as their children. The first 45 minutes act as a kind of prologue. We get to know Arvin as he takes over as the lead character, a troubled soul who is doing his best to look out for the ones he loves. Holland is the anchor for the entire ship, showing his maturity and adeptness for the role.
As the film weaves through the stories of generations of people it may seem convoluted or even confusing, but all paths are leading to one inevitable outcome and converge in a gruesome and violent end. There is a lot going on and many characters, but as the story zeros in on its ending, everything becomes more and more clear, and with that clarity, satisfaction.
Among the dizzying amount of supporting characters are two preachers, Herry Melling and Robert Pattinson, who both have smaller roles, but large effects on the story. Each of them showcases their depth as actors and their commitment to the southern accent. One preys on fear while the other preys on the mind. Fear is a theme often present, it is used as a manipulation tool by both preachers. Manipulation of women in particular and the gaslighting as a guise of spiritual obedience may hit close to home for a lot of people, those themes are prevalent still today.
Rounding out the supporting cast is Eliza Scanlen, Sebastian Stan, Mia Wasikowska, and Douglas Hodge, all bringing their superb talents and raising the bar on this neo-noir. This film is an ensemble piece and everyone brings it.
The story would not work without its brilliant portrayal by the cast, as well as the locations. Campos and Cinematographer Lol Crawley have created a visual feast, transporting us into the story through sight and sound. The soundtrack is buzzing with old gospel tunes, perfectly paired for every scene.
Humanity is on full display, every dirty and dark corner. The subject matter, although grotesque at times, shows the true heart of those who have been corrupted with power and the lives that they affect. Religious power, political power, and power through fear. Lives and families have torn apart as a direct result of such abuses. Desolation is all that lay in its wake.
3.5 out of 5