The Devil All the Time (2020)

Southern Gothic 'The Devil All the Time': Blending of Religion and The Perverse

By: Domonique Cox-Salberg

The same producer of Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) starring Elizabeth Olson, Antonio Campos, now director, gives us another unnervingly believable tale in The Devil All the Time (2020). Both are immersed in this underground, forgotten worlds; Martha follows the life of a cult, while ‘Devil’ looks into the lives of small-town Southerners who seemingly live off the grid.

Tom Holland in The Devil All the Time (2020)
Tom Holland as Arvin.

Watching these movies, the first thing that comes to mind is a quote from True Detective‘s impeccable Season 1. When Rust says, “People out here, they don’t even know the outside world exists. Might as well be living on the fucking moon.” as he and Martin drive through the desolate Southern lands. Even though Bill Skarsgård‘s Willard did serve time in World War II, he returned to his roots and brought back pain, anxiety, and superstition, not desire for a life somewhere other than where he was born. We could say this for other small American towns, though, the crucial difference is the South’s prominent religious culture and underprivileged population.

‘The Devil All The Time’s’ Most Important Element

Netflix's 'The Devil All the Time' Review: Down-Home Livin' and Dyin' - The New York Times
Robert Pattinson as Rev. Preston.

So out of all the shocking and downright evil things to transpire in this film, one idea seemed essential: the blending of religion and the perverse. In its entirety, The Devil All the Time is a decent film with a notable portrayal of this particular element. Its plot, setting, themes, and characterization are all imbued in religion within the American South and provoke a fascinatingly difficult conversation about the subject. Willard, Rev. Preston, Roy, and Carl’s stories have the strongest conveyance and inform us most of religion’s bleakest depths.

Willard & Roy: Religious Tableau’s

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Bill Skarsgård as Willard Russell.

Willard and Roy appear to have more common beginnings and ties to religion than Rev. Preston and Carl and are tremendously devout in their faith but dangerously so. We are also introduced to it from traditional Southern families with strong bonds to the church. Willard and Roy fervently believe in their faith and not much else, displaying what most poor Southerners typically have at their disposal.

Moreover, because of the appeal a church can offer, unlike other institutions, there are no obligatory fees, education, or prejudices because the church is assumed to be open to anyone of any socioeconomic or ethnic background. In that regard, viewers can appreciate how this film showcases what it’s like to grow up in rural and impoverished areas. Like the lack of options, constant danger, and why as a result, religion is so firmly held on to. Additionally, it gives viewers who are city dwellers a reminder and notion often forgotten: what it really is like for country folks. In that respect, stories like this are very important.

Rev. Preston & Carl: Descent Into Darkness

What early reviews say about 'The Devil All the Time' - al.com
Jason Clarke and Riley Keough as the sleazy couple Carl and Sandy.

Another interesting take The Devil All the Time explores are its keen observations about repugnant behavior and how it can go hand-in-hand with something as holy as religion. We see a new young Rev. Preston set up shop in the town, only to be revealed as a predator and charlatan. He becomes a character in the shape of a preacher type, unfortunately, not entirely a work of fiction. Nevertheless, even Rev. Preston’s harrowing sins did not match up to Carl’s. Sordid crime and violence, Carl and his wife, as budding serial killers, force viewers to see the dark depths of these characters’ religious beliefs. We learn of Carl’s vile religious perspective from the narrator: What Sandy didn’t understand was that to his way of thinking, this was the one true religion. Only in the presence of death could he feel the presence of something like God. The sick fuck.” Not often traveled, we are reminded nothing is black and white, not even matters of the church.

My Note To The Reader:

What did you think of the how the film handled religion? 

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