(director/writer: Antonio Campos; screenwriters: Paulo Campos/based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock; cinematographer: Lol Crawley;  editor: Sofia Subercaseaux; music: Danny Bensi/Saunder Jurriaans; cast:  Tom Holland (Arvin Russell), Bill Skarsgård (Willard Russell), Jason Clarke (Amateur Photographer), Sebastian Stan (Deputy Sheriff Lee Bodeker), Robert Pattison (Rev. Preston Teagardin), Riley Keough (Sandy), Haley Bennett (Charlotte), Michael Banks Repeta (Arvin at 9), Harry Melling (Roy, Preacher of Leonora), Mia Wasikowska (Helen Hatton, Leonora’s mother), Eliza Scanlen (Leonora), Kristen Griffith (Grandma Emma), David Atkinson (Earskill),  Douglas Hodge (Leroy Brown), Pokey LaFarge (Theodore), Donald Ray Pollock (narrator); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Randall Poster, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Max Born; Netflix; 2020)

“Has a brutal honesty.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Antonio Campos (“Afterschool”/”Christine”) directs and co-writes with his brother Paulo this bloody, grim, Gothic period-piece noir film. It’s based on the 2011 novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who is also the narrator. The macabre story is set in the adjacent backwoods communities of Ohio and West Virginia.

It takes place in the
Appalachian towns of Knockemstiff, Ohio (the author’s hometown) and Coal Creek, West Virginia, in the 1950s, and covers the lives of three generations.

W.W. II Navy war vet Willard (Bill Skarsgård) returns to civilian life with anger tantrums caused by psychological ailments during the war (he witnessed a marine crucified by the enemy, that left him traumatized). Back home Willard marries the Ohio diner waitress Charlotte (Hayley Bennett), who dies from cancer. Dad sends their nine year-old son Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta), whom he teaches how to be righteous and revengeful, to live with his Grandma Emma (Kristin Griffith). Granny is also raising the orphaned Leonora (Eliza Scanlen). Her madman preacher father, Roy (Harry Melling), killed her mother Helen Hatton (Mia Wasikowska) believing he would be able to resurrect her. It took some 7 years to find her body in the woods.

Leonora as a teen is bullied by the dirt-bag, hypocritical new town preacher Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattison). Tom Holland plays Arvin as a troubled orphan teen, who wants Leonora to fight back against the evil preacher and helps her to get revenge.

Meanwhile an ambitious but corrupt deputy sheriff Lee (Sebastian Stan) is keeping an eye on his sister Sandy’s (Riley Keough) shady amateur photographer husband, Carl (Jason Clarke). Sis worked at the diner with Arvis’s deceased mom and met her customer husband on the same day Charlotte met hers. The creepy pair pick up hitchhikers and force them to perform sexual acts with them and then dispose of them.

It’s a messy plot, told with flashbacks, and filling us in on demented tales about preachers and serial killers and troubled teens. All the characters are one-dimensional, but deliver fair performances considering how weak is the script.

The greedy authoritarian villain Englishman Pattison tries to pass off a Southern accent by speaking through his nose.

It’s not an easy film to love because of its unpleasantness. But it has a brutal honesty, as it tells us the abused teens must learn to think for themselves and begin to make sound decisions–that blindly following their elders is dangerous.

Review: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME, Post-war Pulp
      Haunts Compelling Rural Noir

REVIEWED ON 9/30/2020  GRADE: B-