Every book that Stephen King has ever written is rooted in a small town, where people’s worst impulses and fears are taking advantage of by some malevolent force. The Devil All the Time has a similar approach, without the suspense, tension, in-depth characters, and narrative arc. What you’re left with is a bunch of sinful people tied by coincidences over a period of time.
This movie is based on a book by Donald Ray Pollack, who also narrates the movie. I’m sure he wants us to be interested in this film, even though the tone of his voice sounds as disinterested as the movie is with its characters.
The script manages to connect them through an intricate pattern of fate. But the movie is focused on the lurid highlights of their lives.
It does start interesting enough, with all the bells and whistles of a prestige picture – it’s a slow period piece with a classic musical score and an ensemble cast. The plot starts with Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), a US marine from World War 2 who found God. The plot ends with his son Arvin, a young man who’s also surrounded by violence and death like this father.
In between, you have a whole bunch of characters, all of whom are either scoundrels or victims. This includes a statutory rapist preacher (Robert Pattinson), a corrupt cop (Sebastian Stan), a serial killer (Jason Clarke), an unfortunate mother-daughter (Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska), and a waitress turned bait (Riley Keough). There’s also a dude who murders someone because he thinks he can resurrect the dead.
None of these characters is interesting as the plot jumps from one terrible or miserable caricature to the next. The plot isn’t as punishing and exploitative as Brimstone, but it’s as tediously tragic.
The Devil All The Time is simply a meandering tale of events loosely tied together by people who are suffering or inflict suffering on each other.
This film must be hell to edit as it barely resembles a movie. To be fair, adaptations of Stephen King’s books never did well except for Stand by Me, which is a novella about four boys on a hiking trip.
And that could be the key here. Perhaps if Antonio Campos used the same tight focus from his previous work, this dour bloated film would’ve been different. Sandy and Carl’s story, in particular, deserves its own movie.
It’s no use talking about what-ifs at this point. There is something here about blind reverence and corruptible faith. The movie is able to build a fitting backdrop for a Christian noir. Unfortunately, The Devil All The Time is buried underneath relentless pulpy horrors that it has mistaken for mature storytelling.
The Devil All The Time
The Devil All The Time is a pointless wearisome thriller with a revolving door of miserable characters.