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‘The Devil All The Time’: a story of sin & revenge

The Devil All The Time

“The Devil All The Time” was a mind-bending thriller that chilled me to my bones. With its gothic themes and sparkling cast, it was different from any other movie that has emerged the last couple of years.

The film was released on Netflix last month, just in time for those awaiting the arrival of eerie films to watch during the upcoming fall. Director Antonio Campos, known for his work on Marvel’s “The Punisher”, took on the movie as a challenge to stay true to its original format (a novel written by Donald Ray Pollock). Campos not only achieved his goal— he also managed to create a film that transcended the genre of psychological thrillers. He doesn’t hold back as he digs into the faults of human nature, the ways radical piety can turn into obsession and the meaning of real evil. 

 The film takes place in Ohio and West Virginia after the end of WWII into the 1960’s. Knockemstiff is the main setting; a small midwestern town that gives an eerie, Steven King-esque atmosphere for the story. The plot centers around the main protagonist Arvin, played by Tom Holland, a boy that emerges from a childhood soaked in blood and tragedy. Having lost his mother to cancer, and his fervent father shortly after, the young boy is raised by his grandmother and uncle, and his adopted sister, Lenora. 

In his pursuit to protect the family that he has now, Arvin faces enemies from in the town that seems to have dark secrets bubbling beneath its surface. Campos took a different yet intriguing approach when creating the film, following the point of views of different characters, and then combining them altogether in the end when they finally interact with one another and change the entire outcome of the film. It was like watching all of the puzzle pieces being put together.

The main reason why this storyline flourished so beautifully was because of its impeccable casting. The cast consists of award-winning actors such as Sebastian Stan, Bill Skarsgard, Eliza Scanlen, Jason Clarke, and Riley Keough.  Stan plays a corrupt police officer, Skarsgard is Arvin’s abusive, zealous father, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough play a pair of Bonnie-and-Clyde-like serial killers and Eliza Scanlen is Arvin’s innocent sister that prompts the climax of the story. 

And that’s not to mention the most unexpected actor chosen for the protagonist of a gritty thriller movie: Tom Holland, the star known for his charming, playful role as Peter Parker (Spiderman) in the Marvel universe. Another actor chosen for a bizarre role in the movie is Robert Pattinson, who plays a corrupted priest that serves as one of the many despicable antagonists. The power struggle portrayed by Holland and Pattinson fuels the tension of the story and had my blood chilled from their first encounter. 

From the multiple murders committed by the pair of star-crossed lovers, to the unfortunate fate that grips Arvin’s sister, deviance surrounds every corner of the town, forcing Arvin to become the heroic American boy that refuses to let evil go unpunished. When Lenora is being targeted he goes into a blind rage (influenced by the anger issues passed on from his father) and throws punches and mercilessly beats up the ones responsible for going after his sister. 

The film offers the idea that the world is in a constant power struggle, with people being forced to eat or be eaten by the flawed. The characters of the story go after each other, and it’s not always the innocent ones that get out alive. It also provides an intense look into religion, and how sometimes it can get to people’s heads or even create a god complex in their mind’s eye. Even the movie itself is supposed to be narrated by the voice of god and his judgement upon his creations. 

Much of the film also touches on trauma and mental illness, illustrated by Arvin’s flashbacks and his uncontrollable anger issues he inherited from his father. Yet, my favorite theme is that everyone is a sinner: from the pair of murders, the trusted and thought-to-be innocent priest, to the young boy who is just trying to avenge the wrong-doings of others. The raw truth of the story hits hard, with its combination of gory scenes, heart-wrenching emotions and the hope that’s nursed for the main character. This was a movie that picked at my brain and made me question the antics of human nature. 

I would recommend watching it at least once, if not many more times after just because of Holland’s acting and the action scenes that he stars in. Although theatres may be closed, this movie still calls for attention and promises to leave its audience with jaws dropped and endless goosebumps. 

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