The Devil All The Time (2020) – Netflix Movie Review

Violence Begets Violence

The lessons we teach our children are pivotal to how they turn out when they’re older. In his book, Robert Kiyosaki discusses how wealth and riches start with your mentality. A poor mentality means a poor life. A rich mentality means a richer life.

There’s a reason why lottery winners and big footballers sometimes go on to lose everything after their big successes. There’s also a reason why some who have a little are content and happy to play the long game.

For me, I have one lesson I repeat over and over again with my kids – work hard to play hard. Ironically, this is the same lesson my Mum taught me growing up. For other parents their lessons may differ but whether consciously or unconsciously, these stick with our children long after we’re gone.

These life lessons form the back-bone of Netflix’s thought provoking crime thriller, The Devil All The Time. Thriller may be a bit of a stretch, given the slow-burn 130 minute run-time, but the movie certainly packs in some tense and dramatic peaks along the way.

Trying to explain The Devil All The Time’s plot without giving away key parts of the story is a tricky beast to tame. In essence, this tale revolves around a small backwoods town and in particular how a group of people tackle the harsh realities life throws at us.

Wrapped up in a heady cocktail of religion and violence, the main protagonist here is young Arvin Russell who plays a key role in the story during the second-half of this tale.

The first however takes us back in time to follow his Father Willard Russell, a man haunted by the ghosts of his past after a particularly arduous time during the war. With his faith tested, Willard finds a new lease of life through waitress Charlotte whom he ends up living with.

I’m being careful here not to spoil anything but there’s two other separate storylines at work here too. These eventually converge in a singular tale settling down in the 60’s when a new priest called Preston Teagardin arrives in town.

All of this builds up to a climax that capitulates everything together into one bloody, violent and thought provoking ending.

There’s an awful lot going on here and it’s worth noting that The Devil All The Time is not a simple film. Instead, the plot revels in mischievous shades of grey and even darker shades of grey beneath that. There’s certainly no heroes here, only differing layers of villainy that descend down to the deepest recesses of our nightmares.

As the title of the film suggests, the devil is among these people all the time, disguised by the facade of sweet, innocent Christianity. Seemingly self-aware of this, Arvin even pleads late on “I’m not a bad person” as a way of almost convincing himself that he’s not. 

Ultimately this plays into the main themes and ideas of the story. Does violence just beget more violence? Given the cyclical nature of the narrative it certainly hints at this. There are numerous poetic moments through Arvin’s life that mirror that seen with Willard.

Whether it be Arvin smoking a cigarette on a truck in the exact same pose or viciously beating on bullies, each of these deliberate encounters play back to what we’ve seen previously during the first half of the movie.

It’s not just the idea of a son unwittingly stepping into his Father’s shoes here though. The same can be said for the women too, falling prey to nefarious men that promise them the world under the sweet layer of religion and the Lord’s blessing.

These weaknesses manifest in the form of some pretty shocking scenes. The violence that holds everything together really plays harmoniously alongside religion. A lot of the time religion is used by these men and women as a shield; a mask of sorts to hide their sinister and ugly desires lurking beneath the surface.

Given how much of a slow burn this movie is, it helps that there’s a real powerhouse of talent at the helm of this. While Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland are likely to get the plaudits here, Bill Skarsgård and Harry Melling deserve just as much praise.

They play off their complicated and dark characters effortlessly and Bill in particular is perfect at those subtle but effective looks conveying more going on under the hood.

The Devil All The Time is not a simple and easy film to watch. For some, this will play off as a bloated, overlong lesson about things we already know. However, if you can go into this one with a bit of patience then there’s a lot of poetic meaning and ideas explored.

That is ultimately where the movie is at its strongest. The various characters interweave and overlap seamlessly and there’s some nice stylistic cues used here that helps to elevate this film above mediocrity.

It’s definitely not a movie for everyone but with excellent acting and some thought provoking ideas, The Devil All The Time makes the 2+ hour journey worth taking.


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