Movie Review: ‘The Devil All The Time’ is a Sinner’s Moral Compass

By Aishvarya Varma (fetuinyou)

A story set in suburban Southern USA, ‘The Devil All The Time’ is Netflix’s latest psychological thriller. Having been released today, the movie is a gruesome portrayal of the evils that befall authoritarian failure. Discussing topics like religion and law & order, this adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s book by the same name forces viewers to snap out of comfortable viewing – dragging them into a grim tale of a series of unfortunate events. The original writer is also the narrator of this brilliant film produced by Jake Gyllenhaal.

“Nearly all of them connected by one godforsaken calamity or another; be it lust, or necessity, or just plain ignorance.”

the devil all the time - image
Source: The Devil All The Time – Netflix

Life was significantly difficult in the 1950s. The narrator makes it a point to let us know the gravity of this truth in a deep, southern accent that is memorable. In the late 1940s, the Russells moved to the town of Knockemstiff, Ohio. Who were the Russells? That is a biography best heard from Pollock himself.

Without disclosing any relevant details, their biographies spark debate on subjects that cause diabolical emotions to emerge in all its hosts. Love, parenthood, poverty, disease, or prayer are all things we struggle to decipher as ordinary citizens. Sadly, its effect on the disconnected lives of the past was far graver than one imagines today. With all this in mind, Arvin Russell, an eight-year-old boy, begins a new and unexpected journey.

“Some people just need a little help once in a while.”

the devil all the time movie
Source: The Devil All The Time – Netflix

The film painstakingly details Arvin Russell’s (Tom Holland) torrential ancestry and the path before him. As a child, luck wasn’t particularly on his side. Religious protection often seemed to do him little to no justice, but he continues to believe in goodness and empowerment. He has faced innumerable losses throughout his life, eventually forcing us to wonder how they would impact him. From becoming the little boy that needed care, he becomes a force of protection and sustenance for those who depend on him. Highlighting a pandora of death and crime, will Arvin ever find justice through prayer?

“Let me tell you something friends, before I found the Holy Ghost, I was scared plumb to death of spiders. I was a runt.”

the devil all the time movie image
Source: The Devil All The Time – Netflix

Evangelism has a strange way of inspiring the loveless. An immediate need to connect with a higher spirit that is positive and ambitious, adding effervescence to one’s daily essence, is an easy sell. The Reverend, in this small town of West Virginia, always seemed to have a questionable agenda. Portrayed by Harry Melling and Robert Pattinson, these men of God throw light on the darkness that surrounds fundamentalist authority.

The film questions an important facet of religious faith – the blind belief that someone more familiar with scripture is indeed a man who can bring light to the lives of the lost. A strong antagonism towards religious extremism is made clear through this plot. Perhaps to the disappointment of religious positivists, the movie dramatically serves audiences an undeniable shakedown of the exploitation of trust. Does it catch up to the powerful?

“He just felt lucky someone was giving him a ride.”

In this entire debacle that seems to be an ever-so-stretched monotony of pain, the writer also includes the characters of Carl and Sandy (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), who find each other on a day relevant to the protagonist’s narrative. Similar to a flow of cut scenes in Pulp Fiction, we realize that Antonio Campos sprinkles the perfect amount of memorability in each scene, connecting persons across spaces and timelines.

the devil all the time movie scene
Source: The Devil All The Time – Netflix

One of the most powerful narratives penned down for a couple, it serves as an anchoring plot point to highlight the desire & privilege of the fortunate. Most importantly, in one of the first few scenes in the movie, Sandy mentions that her brother got her the job as a waitress. It’s interesting to see how subtly the movie builds on that almost-insignificant fact.

I am struggling to tell you enough about ‘The Devil All The Time’ not because it isn’t impactful, but because it has been narrated with a fluency that I dare not over-assess. It is jarring and thought-provoking, forcing audiences to pay close attention to the smallest details. Each scene connects in the end, depicting horrors of death, mayhem and exploitation in almost every societal interaction. While the topics discussed have been the plot of innumerable movies, there is something distinctly visual and crass about this film. It feels a lot like a version of Lolita directed by Tarantino.

With purposeful irony, the movie also makes it a point to show gratitude to the only stranger who seemed to have acted in good faith and without any self-interest, and the kind lady who gives away everything to continue being a caring mother. The movie successfully finds a way to intertwine society’s most excruciating extremes. It pushes you to a corner, asking you – “Have you been good?” 

The Devil All The Time Trailer

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