THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME is a bad time all the time, 138 minutes worth of the depraved doing awful things to the innocent who naively trust them or are just handy enough to be casually abused. Yet another gift from 2020. Taken from 2011 debut novel written by Donald Ray Pollack, the descent into Midwest Gothic daymares was directed by Antonio Campos, who wrote the screenplay with his brother Paulo. Antonio’s wife Sofía Subercaseaux had the onerous task of editing it, while author Pollack’s voice was enlisted to provide linkage through narration. Pollack was born and raised in Knockemstiff, Ohio, where some of the story is set, a place that, thanks to this, you’ll never want to traipse through without packing brass knuckles, a bulldog and a bazooka.
“There’s a lot of no-good sons of bitches out there.“
Over the span of 1945-1965, an interconnecting clutch of desperate characters cross paths and purposes in a swath of rural Ohio and West Virginia hamlets. The mix includes a combat-haunted veteran and later his orphaned son, two hell & brimstone preachers, a corrupt sheriff and a husband & wife team of serial killers. Those whose fervent spiritual devotion is sincere, who try to live decently, protecting and honoring family are fated to battle dashed hopes, assorted humiliations and much worse from false prophets, the ethically bankrupt and the outright evil.
In his direction, Antonio displays the feel for actors and atmosphere he displayed in the gripping Martha Marcy May Marlene, and he’s aided by fine period & class-resonant production design from Craig Lathrop. The cast do right by the dark material, with particular kudos to Tom Holland (the son with a steel-core code and white-hot temper), Kristin Griffith (naturalistic as his kindly grandmother), Robert Pattison (flashy bonkers as the morals-absent preacher), Harry Melling (batshit lunacy as the crazed evangelical), and Riley Keough (vacant viciousness as the “bait” half of the killer couple).
It’s that pitch-black, pitch-thick material, though, that’s the rub—in your grimacing face—with the plot’s deck stacked and slanted to showcase odious behavior. Misery’s company here runs the criminal code gambit with such relentless distaste that by the time it’s over you feel as soiled as the story’s sacrificial lambs. One character dismisses compassion with “Some people were born just so they could be buried“, to which the misery-bludgeoned viewer could add “Some movies are endured just so they can be forgotten.” The uttered line about ‘no-good S.O.B.s’ is down-home pithy (and obvious to a squirrel), but the justly deserved violent comeuppance rendered to the evil weevils in this cruelty stew isn’t enough to scour a vile aftertaste from 2+ hours witnessing one dehumanizing scene after another. With all the attention given to background detail, the jarring injections of a latter-day style of profanity are another sore point, as if the actions portrayed weren’t sufficiently punishing enough. Pollack’s droning narration is so heavy-handed it becomes insufferable.
On hand to either praise or use the Lord and dish out or suffer indignity are Sebastian Stan, Bill Skarsgård, Haley Bennett, Michael Banks Repeta, Eliza Scanlen, Jason Clarke, Pokey LaFarge, David Atkinson, Mark Jeffrey Miller, Mia Wasikowska, Douglas Hodge and Gregory Kelly. Solid work from one and all—but to what end?
* Though set in Ohio (good old Knockemstiff) and West Virginia, filming was done in Alabama. That’s it, stick your rural folk blame shame onto another state: how very socially conscious.