Seemingly unrelated stories and dubious characters end up converging around one man, Arvin Russell (Spider-Man‘s Tom Holland), an orphan struggling to find his moral compass in 1960s rural West Virginia. Arvin is haunted by the memory of his father (It‘s Bill Skarsgård), a man who’d make blood sacrifices at his own makeshift altar in the woods when praying for God’s divine intervention. Other storylines involve a young preacher (Robert Pattinson) who hides his misdeeds behind his faith, a man who kills his wife believing God will resurrect her, and a traveling pair of fetishistic serial killers.
The Devil All the Time does a great job weaving these various storylines into a surprisingly cohesive narrative. The author of the book on which this film is based, Donald Ray Pollock, reads narration to help the film bridge time and space. The thematic touch is as subtle as a sledgehammer, but that doesn’t stop us from investing in Arvin’s character and wondering whether or not he’ll be able to confront or escape the sinister forces at play throughout his life.
This movie didn’t stick with me as long as it maybe should have. It might be from a lot of serendipity straining my suspension of disbelief, or it might just be from too much storytelling crammed into too little run-time. But The Devil All the Time is certainly never boring, and at times, pretty gripping. I enjoyed the gloomy, backwoods atmosphere of the movie and it’s focus on the dark side of religious conviction. It also benefits from a large, solid ensemble cast, which also includes Sebastian Stan and Jason Clarke.