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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 7, 2020



          TOM HOLLAND as the lead character Arvin Russell in 'THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME'

‘THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME’ is a Netflix movie based on the novel of Donald Ray Pollock set in a small town in West Virginia probing into themes of faith and the inherent evil in men, even men of the cloth. 

The film spans about two decades. It starts in World War II when a soldier, Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard), sees another soldier tortured by the Japanese and left to die nailed on a cross. 

Out of pity, he shoots the suffering soldier. This experience will have a huge impact on him. He then goes home to his town in West Virginia, marries a waitress, Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and they move to Ohio. 

They have a son, Arvin, who’s actually the lead character in the story. But aside from them, there are other characters in the sprawling plotline. 

Willard’s mother, Emma (Kristine Griffith), actually wants him to marry another girl, Helen Hatton (Mia Wasikowska), but she chooses a traveling preacher, Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), whose gimmick while preaching is pouring a whole bottle of live spiders on his head to show how strong his faith in God is. They have a baby girl, Lenora. 

Roy is a religious fundamentalist zealot, and a dangerous one. A spider eventually bites him and his face ballooned from the allergic reaction, but he became even more of a fanatic. 

In the woods, he suddenly kills his wife, believing that he will later be able to resurrect her. Of course, he fails to do so. 

He then hitchhikes and gets a ride from a couple, Carl and Sandy (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), who are actually serial killers who murder hitchhikers. 

Roy becomes one of their victims. The daughter of Helen and Roy was adopted by the mother of Willard, Emma. 

Willard has his own quirky story. His wife gets cancer and he puts up his own cross in the forest where he prays for the Lord to heal Charlotte. 

As a sacrifice, he kills his son Arvin’s dog, and offers it to God. But Charlotte still dies, so he kills himself. 

Arvin is now an orphan and is sent to live with his grandmother, along with Lenora. They grow up together to be like real brother and sister. 

Arvin becomes a teenager (now played by Tom Holland), and is very protective of Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). When bullies in school harass her, he beats them up brutally. 

Their town has a new pastor, Rev. Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), who turns out to be a pervert that preys on teenage girls. He seduces Lenora and gets her pregnant, then denies her. 

Lenora attempts to hang herself but relents at the last minute. However, she trips on the pail where she is standing on and the noose on her neck kills her accidentally. 

Arvin then takes revenge on the pastor and goes on the run. As he hitchhikes his way out of town, he is picked up by the serial killer couple. We won’t go anymore into the details of how the story is resolved. 

There’s actually another plot element concerning a corrupt sheriff, Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan), who just killed two men. He happens to be the brother of Sandy who realizes his sister and her husband are ruthless serial killers. 

The material is really very dark and sordid, with so many killings and lots of men behaving badly doing other violent acts. 

The story could have probed into why they are behaving that way (which could be easily done since it relies heavily on omnisicent voice-over narration done by the novel writer himself), but it’s not really interested in that. 

What we have here is just a catalogue of sinners and a litany of their sins. As one character verbalizes: “There’s a lot of no good sons of bitches out there!” And it seems that the simplistic explanation given is that being bad, violent and deceitful is all just a part of human nature, so we are all headed for damnation. 

The film’s very seriously grim and pessimistic tone is offset by the good work a competent cast. Both Holland and Pattinson are British actors who take on a different Southern accent for their roles. Holland is Spiderman while Pattinson is now doing Batman while Sebastian Stan is the Winter Soldier. 

They now play very dark characters and they’re all good, all eager to prove their acting chops in serious roles, including Skarsgard (the deadly clown in “It”) as the tortured Willard.

The film is directed by Antonio Campos, best known for the 2016 film “Christine” about a news reporter’s battle against depression. His movie has excellent period production values portraying rural America, but he can be faulted for relying so much on narration as a story telling technique. 

Sometimes, it becomes so redundant because what they’re already showing on screen is still being narrated, thus making the running time at two hours and 20 minutes unnecessarily long.

 In the end, we realize that the movie’s various characters might be talking about forgiveness and resurrection, but amidst all the evil shown all throughout the film, we get the sense that their piety alone is not enough for God to answer their prayers and redeem these people, or even the movie itself. 

This movie reminds us the of the 1955 “The Night of the Hunter” about a murderous preacher, also set in West Virginia and also heavy with religious overtones. But that one is now considered a classic and this one is just trying hard to be one.