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Review of Netflix’s ‘The Devil All the Time’

By now most Netflix users have probably seen adverts on their Netflix homepage for this movie. The trailer does a great job of showing off the big names of the cast, showing the dark tone of the movie with manic priests and war, and getting the viewer to add it to their watch list. I decided to do a Netflix party with a friend and got myself prepared for the thrill ride that the trailer seemed to promise. But after watching the movie I found that the movie didn’t live up to the suspense that the trailer had. “The Devil All the Time” has great acting, beautiful cinematography, and an intriguing and rich setting. But it still turned out to be another average suspense/thriller movie that felt hollow with little substance. It contains an obnoxious amount of death to where it loses its suspense. You, the viewer, can easily figure out what will happen if you ask yourself “what is the worst, bloodiest, and most shocking thing that could happen here?” then you have Netflix’s “The Devil All the Time”.

The movie is set in the 1950s and 60s and it follows an intriguing cast of characters who each have their own set of dark troubles and hidden secrets. There are some pretty big names in this movie, like Bill Skarsgård as a veteran of World War II coming home and starting a family which of course doesn’t end well, but he has a son Arvin, played by Tom Holland. There is also Sebastian Stan’s sheriff character who is a dirty cop and will do anything to hide that. Maybe the most notable cast member was Robert Pattinson who played a seedy preacher, and in my opinion, Pattinson’s performance was one of the best in the movie. The viewer is guided through each of these character’s stories by an all-knowing narrator, which is voiced by Donald Ray Pollock who is actually the author of the book that the screenplay was based on. The director and writer of the movie is Antonio Campos who has worked as a producer and director on a couple of other films.

It was the presence of the narrator that tipped me off that the movie was probably based on a book. It is common for a film adaptation of a book to fall short in capturing the substance of a plot or be able to explore characters well in the two hours of a movie. So, I should have expected the movie to feel a little hollow at the end. But let me start with what I liked about the movie. Now, I am not a film major or anything, but I think to the casual viewer, like myself, the cinematography was very appealing and brought depth to the movie. There were some repeating motifs in some of the shots, like one of the blue sky with trees surrounding, which becomes a familiar shot for a death scene later that carries some unspoken but poignant connection between two characters. The cinematography was where a lot of the suspense was as well, with many unique angles and shots of a scene that really captured the viewer and pulled them into what was happening—or what would happen as sometimes the shots would artfully foreshadow a later scene.

I am also a sucker for movies and shows set in the late 1900s, so the setting was a huge draw for me, and the movie uses the 50s and 60s setting in every way possible. The movie is set in Ohio and West Virginia and takes place in rural, small-town communities that help drive the story forward with their isolated location. In the movie, there are ominous churches, hitchhiking, and thick forests where anything bad can happen. There are horrific scenes that are laced with old songs from that era that can make the viewer feel uncomfortable as they listen to an upbeat vintage gospel song as a man is being shot. The movie should definitely be praised for its commitment to the setting that brings a richness to the movie that most suspenseful shows lack.

Now for the bad: the story and plot. I won’t spoil anything because I think it still has some watch-value, but the story was filled with corruption, revenge, and death. I don’t think that there is anything deep being said with these semi-themes, but at least they are there. I think the biggest problem for the movie’s story is the overabundance of these actions. Perhaps the title “The Devil All the Time” excuses the excess of death and sinister storylines, but after the first couple of jaw-dropping moments, the viewer is lead into a boring acceptance of everything else that happens. The more times that shocking things occur the more the viewer will come to expect them. It got to the point that my friend and I would correctly predict what would happen within the next three minutes of a scene. It isn’t suspenseful when you know exactly what is going to happen because the movie lulls the viewer into following a formula throughout the movie. Nothing was shocking or thrilling by the forty-minute mark. There is one scene that was completely unnecessary because the narrator had already told us what had happened to the woman earlier in the movie, but for shock value, they decided to show us exactly what happened beat for beat. I think the overabundance of “shocking scenes” was what helped create the average feel for the movie.

Another thing that emphasized the typicalness of “The Devil All the Time” was its refusal to say anything notable with the characters. The majority of the characters were cookie-cutter personalities. You have the creepy preachers, the sociopaths, the troubled boy, the pious yet naive girl, the dirty cop, and so on. If I can sum up these characters into two or three words, that shows that they aren’t that interesting or deep. I will say, though, that I think Sebastian Stan’s cop character had an interesting storyline with conflicts about family ties and his own corruption, and Tom Holland’s character’s struggle with his father’s death, his step-sister’s plight, and his revenge spree. I think that what makes this movie memorable is the last twenty minutes where Holland’s character goes back to his birthplace, and then there is a confrontation between his character and Stan’s character. That is the only moment that carried any meaning in my opinion.

Overall, I wanted the movie to be more than what it was, which was just average. Why didn’t they do more with some of the sociopolitical issues that were rising up around that time? The Vietnam war was brought up more than once but nothing was really said about it. What about the problems of the Christian religion back then? Especially seeing how religion touched almost every character’s life in a different way, but then it is simplified down into the issues of scummy and delusional priests who abuse their power.

While I was researching the movie, I came across some reviews that mentioned that this movie was “Oscar-bait” and I couldn’t agree more. The movie acts like it is saying something, maybe creating a commentary on post-war rural American society, but it is just another shallow suspense movie with big names to pull in the views and interest. If you are looking for a movie to entertain and unsettle, this movie might be for you. But if you are looking for something with substance and meaning, you should probably look elsewhere.


Source: IMDb

Rachel Gibson

Augustana '22

Rachel is currently studying English and Creative Writing and enjoys reading classics, dreaming up fictional stories, and making lists of all the things she wishes she could do.
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