A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Devil All the Time is an extremely graphic film with disturbing scenes of violence and sex. It offers a largely negative portrayal of religious faith, including a priest who convinces devout teenage girls to have sex with him, a proselytizer who stabs his wife because he thinks he can resurrect her, and a man who kills a dog as a sacrifice to God to save his dying wife. Adapted from a novel, the film depicts rural areas in the 1950s and 1960s as dens of poverty, depravity, corruption, and ignorance. There are war scenes, two suicides, and more than a dozen people killed in a variety of ways shown in graphic detail. Characters maim or kill to teach their kids a lesson, to protect or avenge loved ones, as self-defense, for personal pleasure, or to avoid being exposed as corrupt. A man and a woman are serial killers who lure young men in with sex and then photograph them dead or dying. A series of underexposed photos show the woman in various positions with her victims. Other sex scenes are less graphic in terms of what's shown on-screen, but not in terms of what we understand to be happening, including a woman pleasuring a man in a car, another performing oral sex on the priest, a bar that has rooms in the back with sex workers, two teens about to have sex on a school bus, and teen boys chasing a girl and talking about "hard-ons." Language includes various forms of "s--t" and "f--k" as well as "ass," "hell," "bitch," "damn," "pimp," and "whore." There's also some drinking.
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What's the story?
THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME weaves together several families' stories over a decade in two small towns in West Virginia and Ohio. In one family, the son, Willard (Bill Skarsgård), is just back from war in 1957. His mother (Kristin Griffith) made a pact with God to marry him off to a local woman, Helen (Mia Wasikowska), if he came back alive, but Willard has his eye on a waitress he's met (Haley Bennett). He marries the waitress and they have a son, Arvin, but she dies of cancer when the boy is still young, and Willard takes his own life soon after. Arvin (Tom Holland) is sent to live with his grandmother, who has also taken in Helen's daughter, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), as Helen and her husband, Roy (Harry Melling), have both gone missing. Lenora grows up to be a devout Christian, picked on by local boys and easy prey for an immoral priest. Arvin's family doesn't know yet that Helen and Roy are both dead. Roy's path has intersected with serial killers Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough). The killers get away with murder for years, even though Sandy's brother, Lee (Sebastian Stan), is the local sheriff. Lee knows the only thing that separates him from all the other sinners is that he's the law.
Is it any good?
As much as you want to be repelled by the depraved characters and relentless violence, this film manages to keep you curious. Maybe more impressively, The Devil All the Time makes you care for some of the broken souls inhabiting its two map-speck towns. This is no easy feat. The well-known international cast pulls off playing evil while hinting at the weaknesses and trauma fueling their characters' actions, forcing you to grapple with comprehending characters even as they make appalling, morally questionable choices. At well over two hours long, the film could have done this even better by cutting out a couple of the less-developed stories -- for example, the corrupt sheriff's dealings with a mistress and local crime bosses.
Director Antonio Campos seems fascinated by the darkest side of human nature, but he has set the film to a blend of period gospel, folk, country, and other music that keeps the mood from feeling as miserable as the stories warrant. Adapted from the novel (often labeled "hillbilly gothic") by Donald Ray Pollock, who narrates the film, Devil is set in the gloomy borderlands between West Virginia and Ohio between 1957 and 1965. This location and between-war period is characterized in the film by financial and spiritual poverty. Still, there are no easy moral lessons here, no heroes, and few characters or themes painted in black and white. It won't be for everyone, but given a chance, Devil could surprise more than a few initially reluctant viewers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether any of the characters in The Devil All the Time are sympathetic. If so, which ones, and why?
How is religious faith portrayed in this film? Does the portrayal differ from your own experience of church or religion?
Have you read the novel this film is based on or any other work by the author, Donald Ray Pollock? How does his writing compare with the film?
Did the setting of this film remind you of others you've seen? Which ones?
- On DVD or streaming: September 16, 2020
- Cast: Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård
- Director: Antonio Campos
- Studio: Borderline Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 139 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, bloody/disturbing images, sexual content, graphic nudity, and language throughout
- Last updated: April 19, 2021
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