OTwo Reviews: The Devil All The Time

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

With most of the big releases this year being moved to streaming services, Joyce Dignam reviews the much-anticipated Netflix release, The Devil All The Time.

Adapted from the novel of the same name, and narrated by its author Donald Ray Pollock, Netflix’s new release The Devil All the Time, is a slow-burning and wide-reaching look at good and evil in rural Ohio and West Virginia. Following an eclectic cast of characters through the 1950’s and 60’s, this film is stylish and action-packed from the beginning, however leaves something to be desired in terms of plot and character development. 

The story begins with Willard (Bill Skarsgård) who has recently returned from war to his hometown, where he meets and starts a family with Charlotte. Willard’s story is not the story of this film. No character’s story is. With an ensemble cast, we jump from character to character, following storylines that eventually connect, but always seem to be cut a little too short. The film’s darlings aren’t safe for long - very soon on, we gather that no one is safe from the bizarre and quick ways in which they are removed. Although this type of constant action keeps you on your toes, it can sometimes feel like the film is packed with lots of activity, but no real substance. We are therefore simultaneously drawn into the compelling violence and conflict, yet not really allowed the time to care for any of the characters. 

The Devil All the Time is gothically atmospheric throughout. The characters’ sinister nature hides behind a familiar and friendly exterior. This sense of the uncanny runs throughout, from a serial-killing couple photographing their victims, to a dog sacrifice, to a particularly creepy and predatory preacher, the action in this film is bizarre and gory. Though, the effects of this can suffer from overuse. Viewers are not on the edge of their seats wondering if something is coming; they know it is. Carnage becomes the norm and unexciting about halfway through the film. 

The film is really about what it means to be ‘good’ - seeking redemption if you are not, or vengeance if you have been wronged. These themes are wrapped up in religious devotion and often confusion, but are mostly represented by Arvin (Tom Holland), the seemingly only ‘good’ character, (although not without fault) who attempts to seek justice for the wrongdoings of his loved ones. The gem of this film is its acting, with big stars giving performances you wish you got more of. The Devil All the Time is a disturbing look at human nature: engrossing but not especially memorable.