The villainy of humanity is expertly expressed in “The Devil All the Time”

The film adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s novel is a haunting masterpiece of intertwining narratives.

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Nothing could have prepared me for the sudden tone shift that turned a movie about a hard-working rural town into a story of humanity’s vileness. “The Devil All the Time” is a haunting masterpiece that holds the viewer’s breath and refuses to let go. It’s shocking, expertly crafted and dare I say one of the best films of 2020. In the words of my roommate, it truly reveals “humans at their worst.”

The film is based on Donald Ray Pollock’s novel of the same name, with Pollock serving as the film’s narrator in a nod to the author’s brilliance. The star-studded cast made the movie widely anticipated, starring Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård and Riley Keough among many others. Directed by Antonio Campos, the movie was released to Netflix on Sept. 16.

“The Devil All the Time” is a psychological thriller that follows the intertwining narratives of people living in Coal Creek, W.Va. and Knockemstiff, Ohio after World War II. Though the residents cling to the hope that their faith in God will redeem them, the small town is gripped by an onslaught of violence, corruption and evil intentions. With a power-hungry sheriff, a disturbed preacher and a pair of serial killers, no one is shielded from the ripple effect of the townspeople’s harmful actions.

The most fascinating aspect of “The Devil All the Time” is its artistic storytelling. Typically, films based on novels will adapt a storyline and tone to better fit a big-screen format. However, Campos manages to create not just an adaptation but a visual novel where Pollock’s writing shines through the screen. Every line of dialogue and element of cinematography has been refined to perfection, and you can’t help but remain captivated by every shot. The plot often repeats back on itself to then diverge down a new path that follows the perspective of a different character in that scene. It’s performed with clarity and brilliance that is both easy to follow yet chock-full of twists and turns.

Pollock’s narration is like pure gold for the movie. It enhances the narrative with essential details that cannot be told through dialogue alone, allowing for a natural and authentic flow to the story that does not feel forced or cliche. The film’s pacing is superb for a balance of backstories, vulnerable moments and intense violence.

Speaking of violence, it should be noted that this movie is not for the faint of heart. It is gruesome and horrifying with suspense that stays heightened for entire scenes. Even when it is clear what is going to happen, I couldn’t help but gasp out loud. As brutal as the characters may be, all the violence is real. In other words, the characters are not skilled assassins or all-mighty undefeatable superheroes; they’re just twisted humans armed with guns and knives. In a way, this makes it even more horrifying, as all the villainy can only be blamed on humanity itself.

The evils of this film take on many faces — all of them unnerving and rooted in reality. Some characters are manipulative for their own personal gain, others use religion to justify their disturbing actions and still others crave the thrill of murdering innocent victims. And the actors deserve due credit for their phenomenal portrayal of their characters, each with a Southern drawl that match one another expertly. Out of the large pool of characters, the most raw and genuine portrayals are achieved by Holland, Pattinson, Skarsgård and Eliza Scanlen. Even the most cold-hearted viewer will not leave this movie unphased by their heart-breaking (or in Pattinson’s case, disgustingly vile) narratives.

Pollock’s literary genius is magnified through the dreadful brilliance of “The Devil All the Time.” The various storylines overlap and play upon one another to reveal every dark corner of the rural town, exposing all of humanity’s faults to its horrified audience. Or rather, an audience that is bound to be horrified yet relentlessly captivated.

Edited by George Frey | gfrey@themaneater.com

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