When you think of faith and God in American culture, you can spend days dissecting the different facets of how faith as a medium is used either for individual/societal goodness or cruelty. ‘The Devil All The Time’ is “Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, and is set in post WW2 Ohio. The story begins with A returned combat soldier with PTSD named Willard Russell (played by ‘It’ Pennywise Bill Skarsgard) who passes down his faith and his trauma to his son, and the story of others who are passed trauma and their experiences with grappling with a faith that under the surface is being used to hurt rather than help. The son, Arvin Russell (played by ‘Spider-Man’ Tom Holland) is moved to his grandparents where he runs into the new preacher Preston Teagardin (played by Robert Pattinson). Arvin discovers sinister motives in this charming preacher, which will test both his faith and his personal struggle with trauma in this dark tale of revenge, love, and trials of the soul.
The strongest points of the film come from the acting by our leads. There are some excellent scenes on display with Holland and Pattinson (though in no way is their story the main crux of the film, so don’t expect a ton of moments). Bill Skarsgard continues to impress with his character acting, as well as his chemistry with Holland. Eliza Scanlen who plays a young girl named Lenora, is well performed and the most heartbreaking part of the story. There are supporting stories involving Jason Clark and Riley Keough as Carl and Sandy Harrison, a couple who are very interested in photography involving runaways or people hitching a ride. Sandy’s brother, Officer Lee Bodecker (played by Sebastian Stan) is also a good performance though understated and not really on screen as much as the others.
I also really loved the score in this film. There are interesting gospel motifs that are somehow simultaneously beautiful and somewhat sinister. The film has about a 2 hr 20 min runtime which does seem lengthy for a film where not a lot happens in between it’s big moments. It can feel dull at a lot of points, but the message and the acting keeps you engaged. Whether you agree with this film’s story or not will determine how you will enjoy the film overall. At times it can seem incredibly shallow and doesn’t delve deep enough into motivations of characters. The film’s main message is dealing with generational trauma, specifically how some PTSD can be passed down to your children. How each generation chooses to handle it is unique, which is why I feel even though the film suffers from an unexplored premise worth delving deeper in.
I’m giving ‘The Devil All The time’ a 6/10