Rating: 1/5 Stars
Netflix movies have something of a bad rap. While their TV shows are praised and frequently top people’s best TV series lists each year, their movies seemed to be hit or miss with stellar casts and viral marketing failing to make up for the poor and often forgettable quality of Netflix’s original films. Some have said in today’s pandemic panic-induced new world that streaming original films and films on video on demand are the way of the future beyond cinema chains and drive-in theater experiences. As someone who adores going to the movies and watching good movies, I truly hope streaming does not become the de-facto format of watching movies and I hope films like “The Devil all the time” do NOT become an indication of what all good movies will be like.
The film is an erratically structured narrative; twisting the lives of multiple characters from different families, couples, groups, and points in time between the end of World War 2 and the 1960s; set primarily in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia. There’s Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), a tormented veteran of the carnage in the South Pacific, there’s Carl and Sandy Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), a husband-and-wife team of serial killers, there’s the spider-handling preacher Roy (Harry Melling) and his guitar-playing sidekick, Theodore (Pokey LaFarge), running from the law. And there’s also Arvin (Tom Holland), son of Willard who intersects several of these people and others as he struggles to deal with the violent, unstable, and suffocating twists and turns of life.
Trying to write down the details of this film’s plot proves just as challenging and problematic as it is verbally speaking it to another person. The film supposedly plays out as someone telling you a story (complete with narration from the author of the book this film is adapted from) but much like the characters, no part of the story being told makes much sense and instead, feels like an exhausting amount of brutality and misguided religious symbolism mixed up together in a heaping helping of ugliness that can’t stick a single thing together sensibly throughout its entire 2 and a half hour running time. “The Devil all the time” jumps around its timelines and events with no heads up or explanation, mudding the timeline and leaping through sections of people’s lives with little to no care or concern for the development of its cast.
The film basically plays out like this: we meet someone, something horrific happens, it’s related to God somehow, then ANOTHER horrific thing happens, more cryptic religious noise; then we meet someone new, rinse, wash and repeat. Every perception and use of God or religion spearheads someone doing something insanely sick and twisted and it gets more messed up; escalating the depravity or delusion with no sense or believability whatsoever. Like Roy for example, he’s so jacked up on God, he lets spiders bite his face in Church, then gets an infection that somehow makes him crazy, then he takes his wife out and kills her and believes he can resurrect her, only to run into serial killers who randomly want people to take photos with them before killing them, make sense? Don’t worry; it’s not going to anytime soon!
That’s the real tragedy here though, nothing makes sense. Brutality and twisted mentalities populate nearly every character’s mindset and the reason each time is the same: God made me do it. The tragedy hits especially hard because this film is beautifully shot and framed like a true work of art. It’s gorgeous to look at and it makes the most vacant fields of Southern land look 10 times more extravagant. Speaking of extravagant, this cast is clearly doing their best to work with the material and they are serving commendable performances; despite this story’s warped, wacked out narrative failing to make sense of its own purpose or point.
With the likes of Tom Holland, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Bill Skarsgård and Robert Pattinson, “The Devil all the time” should have been much more than what it actually is and that is a mangled, muddied, dark soaked story that drowns itself in its own misery that spreads to viewers like sickness with little hope, rhyme, reason or even common sense to balance it all out. “The Devil all the time” takes too long to tell a story and even longer to figure out when or what story it’s trying to tell. This film is difficult to watch and stomach outside of its cast and cinematography, but neither one is strong enough to make any sense of its own messy structure, purpose, or why I should endure another minute of this film ever again.