‘The Devil All the Time’ drives a winding, complex story with grim, Gothic undertones


Glen Wilson / Netflix

Stan (left) as Lee and Holland as Arvin face off in the climax of the film. Though set in Ohio and Virginia, filming took place across Alabama.

Never has there been a film where British and Australian actors have had to put on a southern drawl and mosey around the deep southeast. That is until “The Devil All the Time” dropped on Netflix on Sept. 16. 

Featuring a star-studded cast and based on the 2011 novel of the same name, “The Devil All the Time” takes viewers on a long, dusty road with perhaps too many forks along the way. Set in the 1960s between two small towns in Ohio and Virginia, Antonio Campos paints a grim picture of lies, sex and religion.

Told in flashbacks and shots of the current day, the main plot follows Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) as he struggles to come to terms with the death of his parents (Bill Skarsgård and Haley Bennett). Along with Arvin, we follow his father Willard in the past as he struggles with World War II flashbacks, along with Arvin’s stepsister Lenora Laferty (Eliza Scanlen) and her entanglement with the corrupt Rev. Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) in the present. 

If that wasn’t enough, we also follow serial killer couple Sandy and Carl Henderson (Riley Keough and Jason Clarke) as they pick up hitchhikers and take pictures with their victims before torturing and killing them.

The film finds its strength in the bleakness and brutality of the small town life it portrays, especially as the actors fully throw themselves into their roles. Nothing is off the table for this movie, as it blurs the lines between good and evil when the ones closest to God are the ones having to “f[i]ght the Devil all the time,” as the narrator puts it. 

There’s simply no hope to be found for any of these characters, but strangely, they seem to be okay with it, accepting it as part of life. The tragic ending of almost every character will stick with viewers long after its more than two hour run time crawls to a conclusion.

And while each character is interesting enough to have their own spinoff movie, therein lies one of the few kinks found in the film’s armor. The plot of the novel weaves the characters in and out of each other’s lives like a rich tapestry, while in the film it comes off more clunky. 

Simply put, some characters feel as if they could’ve been cut completely from the film, or at least had their screen time shortened. Take the corrupt Sheriff Lee Brodecker (Sebastian Stan), older brother of Sandy, who likes to pass judgement on everyone but himself and look the other way when it comes to his sister’s crimes. 

This is also felt with Lenora’s mother Helen Hatton (Mia Wasikowska). A tragic circle of life (or death) follows mother and daughter when both their lives end at the hands of preachers, one more directly than the other. There is a kind of quaint irony of Rev. Preston residing in the same church where Helen met her delusional preacher of a husband Roy (Harry Melling). 

Despite its faults, the film manages to entice and repulse viewers at the same time with its graphic violence and engaging plot that feels like looking at a sepia toned photograph. Tough to watch but impossible to look away from, “The Devil All the Time” is not one to miss.