The Devil All The Time

Knockemstiff, Ohio. Faced with his dying wife, a desperate man, Willard Russell, tries everything for everything. He turns to religion. His prayers will gradually become akin to sacrifices of which Arvin, the couple’s son, could be the ultimate offering …

Imagine a rubber band as a destiny. First stretched, it clings to a small town in Ohio where a soldier returning from the Solomon Islands front stops by chance. After having met the woman of his life there, he quite naturally decides to settle there to found a home where little Arvin will be born. Then stretched by a series of events caused by the protagonists getting lost in the blindness of their beliefs to hide their traumas, their follies or their worst perversions, this elastic will stretch over years and kilometers until reaching another village of West Virginia, theater of the new life of Arvin, today a young man and protector of Lenora, a sister whose luck wanted that the course results from the same spiral. When Lenora finds herself caught in the clutches of one of the most deviant figures that religion can produce, the elastic will then reach its breaking point. By breaking, it will hit Arvin and all the characters crossed so far with full force and, in a chaos which will make them collide with each other with the greatest violence, will bring them back to where it all began … The multiplicity of points of view in parts in Donald Ray Pollock’s book probably did not make its film adaptation a priori easy, but we can say that the screenplay written by Antonio and Paulo Campos is doing rather admirably well to do justice to the darkness of this fresco on the perdition of a deep America in the face of its most unhealthy contradictions. Narrated here by the author himself mischievously, the film takes up this elastic construction stretching then closing around Arvin while managing to bring to life the many characters who will have a more or less direct impact on his evolution. Of course, the translation of the various masks based for the most part on a truncated religious image (others are so in the more general sense of a vocation), used both by the weakest as refuges for their torments and by predators to conceal their bas-instincts, will sometimes be redundant in the very logic of their denunciation but the mold of crossed destinies in which they will be melted will always make them intervene at the fair value of their influence vis-à-vis the existential journey lived by Arvin. In addition, where the novel inevitably had more facilities to characterize certain characters by further developments in writing, its adaptation benefits from an unstoppable argument to get around this problem: its sizeable cast! The talent of actors of the caliber of Bill Skarsgård, Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, Haley Bennett, Sebastian Stan, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke or Tom Holland largely allows to give a real scale to characters who, on paper, are either more detailed (the couple embodied by Keough and Clarke in particular, here above all defined by the cruelty of their actions), or more expected on the dark facet of the discourse he embodies (Pattinson quite clearly transcends this role of pastor which we quickly understand the nature). So, yes, even visually by his comings and goings between the lights and the shadows on the acts which are played out in this part of the United States stifled by its puritanism of pomp, “The Devil in All Time” is registered in the classic vein of a certain American cinema with a self-critical gaze itself inspired by its greatest literary authors (Daniel Day Pollock is an eminent contemporary emissary), it perhaps does not achieve the strength of the greatest classics passed before him, but, by its generous profusion of eclectic portraits demonstrating the US decadence and its ability to combine them within a single narrative, Antonio Campos’ film has all the characteristics of a more than solid representative of its kind. .