What a crossover. Spider-Man, Batman, and Pennywise the Clown all in the same movie. Take my money Netflix!
(Just kidding, I don’t pay for Netflix)
The Devil All the Time is a backwater, multi-generational tale that follows several different individuals over several decades, operating in several small towns around Knockemstiff, Ohio. The film stars Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, and Robert Pattinson to name a few, who all portray corrupted characters hinged by their varying desires and tragedies.
Our story begins with a soldier named Willard Russel, portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, returning home from the war with a crisis of faith after witnessing the horrors of the battlefield. Things liven up for him though, as he marries a girl and has a son named Arvin in their small, rented house on a hill in Knockemstiff, Ohio (great town name by the way). Without going into spoiler territory, we follow Willard’s re-acclimation to American life and religion while also getting introduced to a fanatical preacher named Roy and his eventual bride Helen, who end up having a baby girl named Lenora.
Around the halfway mark we are now several years in the future. Both Arvin and Lenora’s parents are dead, and the two are now living with Willard’s aunt and uncle. Arvin, who is portrayed by Tom Holland, is very protective of his “half-sister” and begins to grow increasingly suspicious of a new preacher in town named Preston Teagardin, portrayed by Robert Pattinson. Elsewhere in the state, we also get brief glimpses of a serial killer couple with a penchant for photography and cuckoldry, and a crooked cop who happens to be the brother of one of the series killers. As the story unfolds, themes such as the weaponizing of religion and the corruption of local law come into play, but the film feels so scattered underdeveloped that it’s hard to really consider this a great movie.
The performances are fairly well-acted, with Skarsgård and Holland being the standouts for me. Everyone else is either fine or questionable. Pattinson is hilarious in a potentially unintentional way, with his high-strung southern drawl and smarmy attitude. The rest of the characters are given so little time to grow and develop that it’s hard to really connect to them. Interesting B-stories such as the killer couple are awesome to watch, but when the movie starts asking for a more emotional connection with these characters is where it loses me.
I also found the way genders were written to be particularity one note. The women are boxed into this helpless, easily manipulated or disposable role with little to no variety in execution. Riley Keough as Sandy, one half of the murder couple, showed the potential to break from these limitations, but isn’t given enough time to fully develop a believable character arc. Instead, a rather unneeded voice over has to explain to us everything this two plus hour film couldn’t fit. The men see no real variety in their portrayals either, with them either being violent egotists or sexual deviants. There’s nothing wrong with roles like this, but when every character’s foundation is built upon these elements you begin to lose their individual identity. The writing in general can be hit or miss, as there were many times where I couldn’t decipher if the film had a really, really dry wit or took its absurdity a bit too seriously.
On the technical side of things, I liked the grainy, grimy look of the film. The cinematography is fittingly simple, and that’s all it really needed to be. Its use of religious symbolism was fairly effective and haunting at times, along with sprinklings of viscera and violence. These aren’t too frequent found in the runtime, so when they do pop up I found myself disturbed and perturbed by them in the best possible ways. The idea of religion being used as a tool for gains or a justification for ones actions has always been an idea that has appealed to me, and this film mainly succeeds with its themes despite some hiccups.
The pacing of the film, as I mentioned before, is a bit too lopsided towards certain characters and tries to fit nearly 20 years of history for almost a dozen individuals into an already stretched run time. Where the film really shines in it’s storytelling is the last stretch of the film where all the stories and their butterfly effects culminate into a final burst of desperation and violence. The fact that all the stories were able to feel intertwined without being shoehorned or forced is at least a testament to the skeleton of the story, despite its aforementioned flaws.
I feel as if this film would have found better footing as a limited series, giving enough time to delve into the psyches of the prominent characters and better exploring what makes them tick. Despite my issues with the film, I can at least see where the efforts were made and realize that the film may have bitten off a bit more than it could chew. I am, of course, happy to see many of these actors flex their dramatic chops in ways we have yet to see. In any other year I would expect a film like this to be quickly forgotten, but the circumstances of 2020 may very well keep this film in my mind for a while, even if most of my thoughts center around how this film could be improved.
There’s a lot of discussion over where the real town of Knockemstiff got its name. Some say it’s because of the town’s fight happy past, others say it stemmed from an off the cuff comment by the local preacher. My favorite theory stems from the town’s past penchant for producing a moonshine so strong that it would certainly “knock you stiff”.
Moonshine isn’t exactly for everybody, but I’ve attempted to make it a little more friendly to the common consumer by using a recipe that modifies the classic Moscow Mule, in all of its spicy ginger goodness, with the lingering potency of your common moonshine. With regular Moscow Mules, I find the vodka to be a rather hidden guest at the flavor party, so I’m hoping the moonshine’s presence will be more apparent in this cocktail.
If the fellas in Ohio would’ve had these drinks on hand, things might’ve gone a bit differently. For better or for worse. Probably worse. Almost definitely worse.
- 2 shots of unflavored moonshine
- Ginger beer (roughly 4 ounces)
- 1/2 a lime
- Fill a copper mug about 3/4 of the way with crushed ice.
- Add your moonshine and ginger beer and stir.
- Halve your half a lime and squeeze it into the mug (you can drop the lime wedge in if you desire)
- Garnish with the remaining lime wedge.