The Devil All the Time explores the cycle of violence within a dysfunctional family

Image Courtesy of Vulture

By Emma Ojukwu

“The Devil All the Time” is a sin soaked post-war tragedy story set in mid-west America from the end of World War II to the 1950s, narrated by Donald Ray Pollock, the author of the novel the film is based on. Pollock’s southern drawl is beguiling and could turn the burliest of men into an attentive child listening to their favourite bedtime story. His soothing narration juxtaposes the interminable violence that begins to haunt the family that the story revolves around – The Russells.

Strangers in the tightly knit town of Knockemstiff, Ohio are immediately cast out by people who have lived off the land their entire lives. Willard (Bill Skarsgård), a young man discharged from combat duty, is faced with living in a place that won’t allow him to grow. His son, Arvin (Tom Holland), becomes the victim of bullying and even after his father gives him the go ahead to fight back, poor Arvin cannot get himself to do it.

Willard decides the best way to teach his son, is to set an example. In front of his son, he ruthlessly beats up two men that had been bothering his wife. This is our first look into what this character is willing to do to fight for his family, a fight that ends with his wife dying of cancer. Even after he devotes his life to the church he builds in his backwoods, Willard becomes hysterical and dies by suicide.

The narrative then follows Arvin, now situated in his grandparents’ home with his stepsister, Lenora Laferty (Eliza Scanlen), a righteous girl who is also removed from society. Her devotion to church is admirable but when a new pastor arrives, Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), he takes advantage of Lorna and she takes her own life as well.

All the characters seem too close to one another, not leaving breathing room for purgatory. Especially with the a

ddition of Sandy and Carl (Riley Keough, Jason Clarke), two serial killers who end up coming into contact with Arvin in his teenage years. They have to murder him, but they underestimate a boy who has been through so much pain and trauma.

The soundtrack and music ties in with the film’s themes of religion and belief. The very prominent diegetic folk song Washed in the Blood performed at the beginning of the film by Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), a patron of the church, acts as a curse cast on each of the characters for the remainder of the story, and Laferty’s devilish delivery is inspired by Hell itself.

The film is shot beautifully by Lol Crawley, who adds a dirty texture and colour lent by the ST 35mm and makes each shot visually alluring. The grimy browns and green will make viewers wonder if Arvin and the rest of these characters will ever escape the evil backwoods of their hometown.

“The Devil All the Time” is available to stream on Netflix.

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