“The Devil All The Time” (2020), originally a 2011 novel by Donald Ray Pollock, is one of the newest ambitious films distributed by Netflix. The movie is written and directed by Antonio Campos and produced by Jake Gyllenhaal. The tale follows the interconnected stories of various people in 1950s rural Ohio and West Virginia as their lives are guided and transformed by faith and evil.
“The Devil All The Time” is not a horror movie, but a psychological thriller wrapped up in a small-town American story. It contains nothing supernatural, but this makes it all the more sinister. Each gruesome deed in the film is performed simply by humans alone. Campos throws disturbing scenes at you one after another in a series of graphic vignettes as the film descends into darker and darker material. It’s almost an overload of tragedy, and it certainly leaves the viewer questioning whether any optimism can be squeezed from the film, despite its best efforts.
The film is narrated throughout by Pollock, the author. While it can get a bit heavy-handed at times, it helps to reveal the inner mindsets of many characters, which is important in a film where so little is expressed through dialogue. Actions drive this plot; actions of horrible violence, pious faith and emotional retribution. The message is quite clear: The story is an exposé of the violence and abuse that can be hidden behind the idea of faith and the consequences that can have. The only main character who is not religious is, in fact, the most morally sound. What the movie lacked, however, was more of an exploration into what drives each person to do what they do. Instead the viewer is presented with increasingly disturbing imagery and it becomes an assumption that, in the film’s world, all people have evil in their souls.
The pace was impressive, much slower than you’d expect from a film so packed with material. Each moment was full of aching tension, especially in the film’s climactic scenes. Equally as impressive was the cinematography. The movie was shot on underexposed 35mm film, richly capturing the Americana vibe of the 1950s, and finding the artistic beauty in even horrifying images. It’s doubtful that this movie would have worked as well if shot on digital.
The cast was quite good, each actor giving their all to become part of the fabric of this twisted story. Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson were particularly incredible. Holland shows off his dramatic range, giving a surprisingly intimate and pensive performance of his character, which is by far the most likable in the film. Pattinson proves once again that he’s capable of embracing many different roles, as he perfectly captures the preying preacher who uses religion as justification for his perversion.
“The Devil All The Time” is not for the faint of heart, but it’s an engaging film that seeks to strip away the people we pretend to be, giving way to our true natures. Whether or not it’s successful in that is debatable, but it’s worth a watch nonetheless.