There is something both entertaining and terrifying about The Devil All The Time. There are so many “wtf” moments packed into this film that make you overlook some of the worse Southern twangs. Overall, the film is well-acted, and there is a lot of drama, but if there is any takeaway from this film it would be, avoid the woods in the country at all cost. There are some spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film, do not read further.
Let’s hit a bit more on the accents and get them out the way. Because they make you wonder if the actors/actresses involved decided to use Daniel Craig’s Detective Benoit Blanc from Knives Out as their blueprint. Feels possible as Bill Skarsgård’s voice, as Willard Russell—if you closed your eyes—you would think you’re listening to actor Michael Shannon (also in Knives Out). So perhaps everyone gathered around the television and pointed to the actor they would model their voice after. The accents aren’t good, but the plot and the connections between all the characters hold your interest…if you can survive the first 10 or so minutes.
The other issue is a lack of diversity in the picture. People seem to think diversity is unnecessary when it’s a piece set in an earlier time, as though only white people existed. It always makes me wonder if the story was set in the past because it was integral to the story or because they wanted to avoid criticism? This is also why most films that take place in the past that have a mostly or all-white cast cause my eyes to narrow. If the sentiment is that unless it’s about slavery, Jim Crow south, or civil rights there is no point in including us, kindly have a seat and hang up your spurs—you are not needed in the industry. Though, given what occurs in the story, that could be for the best.
Who Is At Fault?
The questions we ask ourselves are the same questions posed by the narrator of the film. How could people living in two separate areas end up connected in such an unfortunate way spanning years, without them realizing it? Did it start when Willard Russell’s mother failed to hold up her end of the deal with God to have her son return safely from the war? After all, she promised God her son would marry an orphan girl, Helen Hatton (played by Mia Wasikowska), in their town and when both her son, Willard, and Helen fell in love with, and married, other partners, none of them lived to old age.
Another more pressing question is: did their religious, superstitious minds create the majority of their misfortune? I mean the grandmother bargains with god to spare Willard and in exchange, she will ensure he marries Helen: which doesn’t happen. Willard, when his wife Charlotte falls ill, murders his son, Arvin’s dog, in exchange for God healing his wife: which doesn’t happen. Roy, Helen’s husband, murders her to prove his faith in God and in exchange expects he will be able to resurrect her: which doesn’t happen. While some may believe “superstition is the religion of feeble minds”, the problem is how they, Willard and Roy particularly, prove their faith.
Big Names—Decent Performance
The cast has big names. Besides Bill Skarsgård and Mia Wasikowska, there is Tom Holland (Spiderman: Homecoming), Sebastian Stan (Captain America: Winter Soldier), Haley Bennett (Swallow, The Girl on The Train), and Robert Pattinson (Twilight series, The Lighthouse) to name some. The acting from the cast is good for the most part, though some shine brighter than others. But it’s not the most compelling part of the film as the “bad luck” and interconnectedness is what keeps you watching. Still, the film is neither mindblowing nor a game-changer; it just is.
The performances that stood out most to me were Tom Holland and Bill Skarsgård. While the worst was Robert Pattinson, that may be because the accent made him more comical than anything. And while in Knives Out you knew Daniel Craig’s performance was meant to be over the top, Pattinson’s is uncertain. Perhaps it was intentional to give his character a snake oil salesman preacher appearance. Perhaps not. It was hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons.
The biggest takeaway besides, “damn that’s some bad luck”, is the same one Deliverance and almost every Stephen King novel inspires: stay away from the rural towns. So, if that’s your interest, this film will be an enjoyable watch. I honestly love films that remind me why to avoid the woods and also showcase how many things can go horribly wrong over time. Still, in the end, the takeaway seems to be blind faith = bad. Don’t bargain with God. And, again, stay away from the woods!
Photo above Cr. Glen Wilson/Netflix © 2020