Thick, brutal story weighs down ‘The Devil All the Time’

Tom Holland in The Devil All the Time / Netflix

Violence begets violence in the latest Netflix film “The Devil All the Time,” lushly but compactly directed by Antonio Campos, even with a two-hour and eighteen-minute running time.

Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Lol Crawley, the movie is a grim indictment of war and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder as the illness and anger of a father is passed down to a son. However, there’s almost too much story for a single film. Adapted from Donald Ray Pollock’s novel, Campos had enough material for a mini-series rather than a single movie.

While the film is impactful in spurts, even with its running length, the movie still could have used more room to breath for it to be as effective as Campos no doubt intended it to be.

The generational story opens with a gruesome cruxifixction and then the mercy killing of the victim by U.S. serviceman Willard Russell, who then carries the scars of the violence and horror he witnessed and suffered back home with him. Despite the horror of his past which haunts him, Russell marries and has a child, but the death of his wife sends him off the religious deep end, which ultimately results in his gruesome suicide, leaving his son Arvin, an orphan.

The violent sins of the father are passed down to Arvin, played by Tom Holland as an adult, who eschews his father’s faith, but maintains his anger. It explodes in a violent fury when a trio of blue-blood, rich boys pick on his step-sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). Arvin takes a beating when he challenges the trio after the violent encounter, but later Arvin ambushes each of them when he has the upper hand and meets out a brutal form of justice.

Soon after Lenora catches the eye of the new city-slicker preacher The Rev. Preston Teagarden, played by a way over-the-top Robert Pattinson, and circumstances for Arvin his step-sister, and Teagarden devolve into a brutal ballet of sin, violence, and destruction.

The film also features a subplot with a serial-killer couple who pick up a series of hitchhikers, take dirty pictures with them, kill them, and then take even more repugnant photos with the bodies. The female in the couple happens to be the sister of Sheriff Lee Boedecker (a hefty Sebastian Stan). Their stories connect with Arvin for a gruesome, bloody, and brutal climax.

If you’re into blood, guts, and all-too-real feeling violence, this film might be for you, but even if that’s your thing, the movie lacks the proper connective tissue to draw all of the violence together in any sort of elegant finale. Even though the film is beautifully shot, it’s too disjointed, busy and rushed to truly connect with me as a viewer. At first it made me feel icky and then just kinda bored me until I was ready for it to end.

(2020) 2 hr. 18 min.
Grade: C

New In Local Movie Theaters

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    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne

  • 112 Drive In

  • Sixteen Candles(1984) 1 hr. 33 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing: Sept. 18-20
  • The Breakfast Club(1985) 1 hr. 37 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing: Sept. 18-20

Classic Corner – 112 Drive In

If you’ve ever dreamed of hopping into a time machine to visit or re-visit a decade from the past, the 112 Drive In has a double feature made for you, especially if teen dramedies are your thing.

The drive in is playing a John Hughes double feature this weekend including two of the director’s classics from the 1980s — “The Breakfast Club” and “16 Candles.”

Time hasn’t exactly been kind to Hughes’ comedies in many respects. Some of what we found funny in the 1980s isn’t proper or “woke” in today’s culture, but even if some of the jokes are considered too offensive today, Hughes packs a lot of heart and sentiment in his films that continue to make them endearing even if a few scenes make you cringe.

The Breakfast Club


“The Breakfast Club” is the quintessential teen dramedy of the second half of the decade. It’s not nearly as raunchy as the early 1980s teen comedies, spawned by the success of 1978’s “Animal House,” but it is funny and thoughtful, at least on a surface level, as it deals with five stereotypical high school characters — the jock (Emilio Estevez) the preppie (Molly Ringwald), the hood (Judd Nelson), the wall flower (Ally Sheedy), and the nerd (Anthony Michael Hall) — as they suffer through a Saturday of in-school detention in their high school library.

The cynic might dismiss the movie as so much pap, but stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason, and Hughes’ film does a nice job of at first playing into those conventions and then subverting them to make each of the four main players’ characters ones which we at least empathize with if not identify with on some level.

The movie came out in 1985 when I was a junior in high school, and while I realized even then that the film was too simplistic in its indictment of our culture and our roles within it, I couldn’t help falling for it.

The movie touches on a fundamental truth in that we sometimes fall into doing what’s expected of us just because it’s the way of least resistance rather than what we truly long for or aspire to do. Sometimes it’s just easier to live the stereotype instead of striving for something more honest. That’s true for high school kids and adults, too.

Sixteen Candles


Ringwald also starred in Hughes’ 1984 comedy “Sixteen Candles” as the middle child whose 16th birthday is overshadowed by the impending nuptials of her older sister. Ringwald pines for the older class hunk played by Michael Schoeffling, who is also secretly intrigued with her.

Ringwald is plagued by Hall’s nerdy advances, until they confide in each other at a high school dance. In typical Hollywood fashion both end up gaining their secret desires, although not exactly how they hoped they would.

To younger viewers, the film is likely dated just like the old Andy Hardy movies, which featured Mickey Rooney, were to kids in the 1980s, but like many of Hughes’ movies, it deals with some essential and funny truths about adolescence that remain common and amusing.

The claims that the film features racist and sexist humor are on point, but at the movie’s heart, it’s about looking past the stereotypes we get trapped in and finding a person’s true and unique identity. A movie as entertaining as “Sixteen Candles” which features that theme can’t be all that bad.