Netflix’s “The Devil All the Time” raises hairs … and eyebrows

Greta Nelson-Bechtold

Extreme religious interpretations, taboo cigarette smoking and controversial southern stereotypes — there is no better way to push the boundaries of how ethically concerning a movie can get. Based on the book, “The Devil All the Time” by Donald Ray Pollock, the psychological thriller follows a young man as he protects those he loves and, in doing so, justifies many more sinister deeds. 

Despite its eye candy cast, including Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson, “The Devil All the Time” was not so much candy for the eyes. Directed by Antonio Campos, this R-rated film truly sets the standard for a not-good, not-bad, just-okay movie. Set between the 1940s and the 1960s, this film is not for everyone, with an extensive amount of disturbing and gut-wrenching scenes.

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The movie begins with the suspected main character, Willard Russell, played by actor Bill Skarsgård, returning from World War II to his hometown of Knockemstiff, Ohio, to start his potential white-picket-fence life. However, the film takes some severe turns by introducing other characters and their own story lines — all with their own lethal properties. 

After following what seems like the main character for some time, it’s not until the end of the first third of the 2-hour, 18-minute-long moving picture that we finally grasp who the actual main character is. Arvin Eugene Russell, played by Tom Holland, is the silent yet deadly son of Willard Russell, who takes being a rebellious child to the extreme. 

What started as a straightforward plot turned into what felt like a dozen different timelines the viewer has to keep up with to understand the story entirely. Viewers are introduced to the many other characters, and each story begins interlocking with Arvin’s story. Characters such as Carl and Sandy Henderson, played by Jason Clarke and Riley Keough; Lenora Laferty, played by Eliza Scanlen; and Reverend Preston Teagardin, played by Robert Pattinson, all cross paths with Arvin in one way or another.

While the timeline frequently jumps around, the one consistent theme around each story is the presence of God and faith. The film pulls from several sinister stories involving disturbing acts connected to God and throws them together to create “The Devil All the Time.”

One of the main issues with this is how religion takes the form of the villain. Everywhere you turn, there is the mention of God and unconditional faith, no matter what form it takes. For example, in an attempt to save the one he loves, Willard Russell crucifies Arvin Russell’s childhood dog as a sacrifice to God. 

The most confusion revolves around what the movie is actually about. While a typical movie hits the climax toward the middle of the movie, this film seemed to build up until the very end, leaving the movie going nowhere until the last second, when the point of the movie is finally revealed. 

Despite the cringe-worthy ethical decisions and predictable results, the character development of Arvin Russell shone through as the most interesting part of the film. After the many mind-boggling plots, the stories all come together, centered around Arvin and his trauma-influenced destiny. Holland’s performance balanced out his cast members’ sub-par performances to make this movie a potentially worthwhile watch. 

Altogether, this film was no blockbuster. “The Devil All the Time” had its chilling dilemmas and 180 degree turns that could hold one over for a new movie night, but only a one-and-done watch — if the viewer can sit through two hours of awful southern accents, that is.

Greta Nelson-Bechtold can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @gretanelsonb.