Faith. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Faith is defined as ‘having complete trust or confidence in someone or something, or a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof’. Depending on the circumstance, having faith in someone or something, whether it’s of the natural or supernatural world, can be a good thing as it can give hope to those who feel hopeless. It’s in religion, regardless of what denomination you may or may not subscribe to, that the darker side of faith can, and often does, reveal itself. History has shown us that countless atrocities, as well as some wars (Crusades, for example), have been committed in the name of religion, such as what occurred during the Spanish Inquisition (established under Catholicism) and the Salem Witch trials (Puritanism). Having too much faith can also lead to disastrous results as in cases where parents refuse to get much needed medical help for their children, believing that their faith is so strong, God will heal their child, often leading to a tragic and sometimes fatal conclusion.
The new Netflix original, The Devil All the Time, directed by Antonio Campos (The Sinner), based on the novel of the same name written by Donald Ray Pollock and executive produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, stars a plethora of powerhouse talent including Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Robert Pattinson (Tenet, The Batman), Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Winter Soldier/Civil War), Bill Skarsgard (IT: Chapter 1 & 2), Jason Clarke (Terminator: Genisys), Haley Bennett (The Girl on the Train), Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak) and Riley Keough (Mad Max: Fury Road).
The Devil All the Time, similar to films such as Magnolia and Pulp Fiction, weaves together several different plot threads that come together in a magnificent tapestry of loss, brutality, betrayal, and finally, redemption…of sorts. Bouncing back and forth between the past (the end of World War II) and the ‘present’ (the 1960s), we’re slowly introduced to our main characters; Willard (Skarsgard), having just returned home from the war, his 9yr old son, Arvin (convincingly played by young actor, Michael Banks Repeta) and Willard’s wife, Charlotte (Bennett). Willard has seen his fair share of savagery while in the war, losing his faith in the process. It’s only through personal tragedy that Willard returns to his faith, constructing a prayer log in the woods, praying fervently, along with his son Arvin, for divine intervention.
While getting to know Willard and his family and their roles to play in the events to come, we’re introduced to the spider-handling preacher, Roy (Harry Melling), in a scene that will give arachnophobes nightmares for some time, and Roy’s handicapped brother, Theodore (Pokey LaFarge). Roy meets and marries, Helen (Wasikowska), and that marriage yields them a daughter, Lenora. However, Roy’s faith in God is so strong that he becomes convinced that he is able to resurrect the dead and one day, decides to put that faith to the test with disastrous results.
The Devil All the Time contains so many bizarre characters that trying to describe how everyone interacts with each other and how their stories relate to the overall plot would be me doing a great disservice to the excellent concoction that director Campos has cooked up for us. There’s the murderous duo, Carl and Sandy Henderson (Clarke and Keough), who’s pastime is picking up young, male hitchhikers for Carl to indulge his love for photography, and murder. There’s the new preacher, Preston Teagardin (Pattinson whose skills as an actor are REALLY on display here), a slime-ball of the first order who uses his position as a preacher to seduce young women. There’s the corrupt Deputy (Stan), running for Sheriff, who has his own nefarious intentions and whose family may cause his plans to wither and die. Caught in the middle of all of this is Arvin (Holland), now grown up and devoted to his family, whose own violent ways are beginning to catch up with him as everyone’s stories begin to converge in a deadly, knuckle-biting climax.
As I mentioned earlier, The Devil All the Time is similar to films such as Pulp Fiction and Magnolia in that multiple storylines are on display that eventually wrap back around, showing how everyone’s actions can affect those around them, whether it’s in a positive or negative way. Personally, I’m a huge fan of films like this, if done correctly, and one of the things I loved most about The Devil All the Time is that it felt like a more intimate story, focusing on family devotion as well as religious devotion. Films such as Pulp Fiction, for me at any rate, while being extremely engaging, are unable to fully bring me into the story on an emotional level because I’m unable to relate to the events transpiring. A story about family and the tragedies that can occur to a family; those are the tales that draw me in emotionally and makes for a more fulfilling experience.
Overall, The Devil All the Time lived up to my expectations and, at times, even surpassed them. Holland, always a joy to watch gives an outstanding performance as a young man who experiences more family tragedy than any one person should and emerges, while not totally unscathed, with his devotion to doing what’s right still relatively intact. Much of The Devil All the Time is spent showing how one’s faith in religion is put to the test when that faith doesn’t yield the reward they expect. However, it’s often said that God works in mysterious ways and that maybe, just maybe, the Hand of God can be seen at work, if we look closely enough. Maybe there IS a divine plan after all-only it’s just too big for us to see clearly. Ultimately, I had faith that everything would work out well in the end. Does it? You be the judge.