‘The Devil All the Time’ questions morality

Brandon Flanery

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4 out of 5 stars 

Serial killers, murderous preachers, mentally broken fathers and weak police officers all come together to challenge our notions of good and evil in Antonio Campos’ “The Devil All the Time.” 

     Adapted from Donald Ray Pullock’s internationally acclaimed novel, “The Devil All the Time” is an unsettling movie that hit Netflix on Sept. 11. As the title suggests, it deals with themes of who defines evil, and more importantly, who is evil. 

     The movie revolves around nine characters, which sounds like a lot of storylines to keep track of, but Pullock did a great job of focusing on one or two characters at a time to not overwhelm the audience. Bill Skarsgård from “It,” Riley Keough from “Mad Max,” Tom Holland from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and Robert Pattinson from “Twilight,” are just a few of the big names and heavy hitters that take on entirely new personas in this film — personas that fall to corruption. 

     While all drastically different, from careers to faith to even location, every single character is tied together in a web of good intentions meeting evil ends, forcing the audience to wonder who is good and who gets to decide that. 

     The story starts in World War II, when viewers are introduced to the first of many characters. Willard Russell (Skarsgård) is a soldier who stumbles upon a skinned and crucified man barely alive as he hangs on a hill. The memory will forever haunt him and twist him as he skins and sacrifices his child’s dog in exchange for his wife’s life. The sacrifice is not heard, as his wife dies and he commits suicide, leaving his son Arvin (Holland) alone in the world. And that is just in the first 20 minutes. 

Bill Skarsgård (left) and Michael Banks Repeta (right).
Photo courtesy of Netflix, Inc.

     If this opening is unsettling to you, you are in for more moments that grip your stomach and your heart as the corruption of every character plays out in horrific ways, including the murdering of the innocent, the seduction of minors and failed resurrections. 

     As crazy and repulsive as those moments may seem, they all come from “normal” people trying to do their best, with just a few exceptions. Most of them are caught up in horrible circumstances that lead to acts none of us believe. By the end of the movie, the audience is haunted with the fact that a lot is possible if the circumstances are right. 

     If you can stomach the horrific scenes, this movie is beautifully haunting. It left me feeling unable to judge anyone, including the worst of the worst, and yet not trusting the best of the best.  

     Caricatures that our society worships — preachers and war heroes — become sinister, while those to whom society has turned a critical eye — serial killers and suicide victims — are humanized. 

     Which leaves me with this one criticism: the characters are not characters, but caricatures. While there is some level of development in a few of the many people we meet, Pullock relies heavily upon tropes to carry his story forward. 

     Regardless, the mysterious nature of the film, specifically the intrigue about how all these characters connect, combined with the existential crisis Pullock forces upon his audience, won me over. I truly did like the film. For that, I give it a 4 out of 5.