The Devil All the Time

The Devil All The Time: A relentless, twisted and assured Southern Gothic horror

6 mins read

The Devil All The Time is available now on Netflix

Based on the relentlessly dark Southern Gothic novel by Donald Ray Pollock, the fourth feature film from director Antonio Campos (Simon Killer) is both stark and enthralling. Here a genuinely stunning ensemble cast offers gravitas and depth to Pollack’s story. The horrors of community intolerance, isolation, abuse, lies and religious extremism laid bare.  The result is an unrelenting and vivid descent into Southern gothic horror, as individual journeys entwine into an ocean of pain and suffering. And while many Southern Gothic movies of recent years have laced the darkness with dry comedy. The Devil All The Time takes a far more sombre road, exuding the oppressive heat of a Southern summer. While at the same time ensuring you can almost smell the sweat and tobacco of its characters.

Our story opens with the return of a young World War Two veteran, Willard (Bill Skarsgård), from the South Pacific. His war experiences, haunting his ability to reintegrate into a community built on blind religious belief. However, on meeting a young waitress, the darkness lifts, with both settling down into family life with their firstborn son Arvin. However, if all this sounds idyllic, darker forces surround the community, from poachers who boast about sexually assaulting women to travelling preachers trapped in a deluded world. And we haven’t even mentioned the corrupt sheriff or his devilish sister. But as Willard once more turns to religion for answers, the family collapses into a pit of turmoil and pain as young Arvin is sent to live with his grandmother. There he meets his stepsister Lenora, who is also an orphan of tragedy.


We then jump forward to older Arvin (Tom Holland) and Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), who are in high school, their lives unknowingly and inextricably linked to a shared past. Here both are surrounded by gruelling poverty of opportunity, their only safety net, the sibling love they hold for each other. However, once thought buried, a past is about to emerge from its shallow grave when a shady and predatory new preacher (Robert Pattinson) comes to town.

Many of the building blocks of Southern Gothic horror can be found in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. However, the genre as we now know it found a voice in the work of both William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. The classic building blocks of gothic horror laced within a Southern frame of evangelical religious belief, family dysfunction, poverty, toxic masculinity and slavery. With cinematic ventures into the genre ranging from The Night of the Hunter (1955) to Killer Joe (2011) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), to name but a few. Each film dismantles the romance and sweeping vistas of Gone With the Wind (1939). But, does The Devil All The Time reach the same heights of drama as many of its predecessors?

In the main, the answer to this question is yes; its impact, both enthralling and uncomfortable in equal measure. But when we add to that, some truly stand out performances that revel in the macabre The Devil All the Time finds a unique and highly creepy voice. Here Robert Pattinson once again shows us just how diverse his talents are, with an unflinching and decidedly dark take on a rural preacher free from any control. While at the same time, Holland continues to build upon his skills in embodying a diversity of characters. But when you add to this, the heartbreaking performance of Eliza Scanlen and the unflinching evil of Keough & Clarke’s disturbed and murderous couple. The Devil All The Time offers us a rich tapestry of captivating characters. Each one, carrying their own burden or sins in a community where religion is twisted to fit the individual’s actions.


The only weakness comes from a lack of space and time in fully exploring the characters at the heart of the film. Here the sweeping journey from the 1940s to the 1960s feels somewhat rushed as we are taken sharply from one scene to the next. Of course, this is a common problem when translating a novel for the screen within a tight two and a quarter-hour run time. But despite this, many other aspects of Campos’ film sing, from the use of film rather than digital technology through to the sublime cinematography of Lol Crawley. In fact, these two elements alone result in a movie that deserved a cinema release. But when placed alongside a series of riveting performances and a feeling of grit, dirt and sweat, The Devil All The Time becomes an assured addition to the ‘Southern Gothic’ genre.

Robert Pattinson stars in The Devil All The Time ©️Netflix 2020

Director: Antonio Campos

Cast:  Robert PattinsonTom HollandBill Skarsgård, Haley Bennett, Riley Keough, Sebastian Stan, Jason Clarke, Eliza Scanlen

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