Netflix Offers a Take on Religion with “The Devil All the Time”/by Bryan Matthews

On July 12, 2011, Donald Ray Pollock published a novel by the name of “The Devil All the Time.” This novel was well-received critically and commercially for its Southern Gothic setting, complex characters, and deep themes. Many compared it to William Faulkner’s stories about Southern honor and familial strife over the generations. The author has gone on to report that he wrote the story based on his own personal experience, having lived in the little town of Knockemstiff, Ohio, where most of the story takes place. After this, the author sold the film rights to this piece of literature to Netflix who promised to make a feature film in the coming years.

In 2020, new movies have been scarce to say the least. However, Netflix has done their best to bring us star-studded, entertaining films with the likes of “Extraction” with Chris Hemsworth, “The Old Guard” with Charlize Theron, and “Enola Holmes” with Millie Bobbie Brown and Henry Cavill. That being said, “The Devil All the Time” is probably the brightest, most star-studded cast that’s been released this year. It isn’t every day you see Spider-Man, the next Batman (or Edward from “Twilight” if that’s your jam), Pennywise the dancing clown, the Winter Soldier, and John Connor from the “Terminator” franchise all in the same movie. The acting is by far the best aspect of the piece. Tom Holland is wonderful as the protagonist of the story, and Robert Pattinson plays one of the slimiest dudes you will ever find in any film gleefully. 

However, the film’s story for these characters can come off as a little convoluted at times. Turning a 300-page novel into a two hour and 15 minute movie is no easy task. A lot had to be cut, but the film is run down at times because of rushed subplots or dead ends that produce little merit. The film’s narration can come off as filler for us to connect the dots at times, but in its defense, the narration is performed by the author, Donald Ray Pollock, which is a very cool twist on traditional, god-like narration – here’s looking at you, Morgan Freeman. In essence, the film is a literal extension of the author’s voice, which I found to be refreshing in an unexpected way. 

While this film is in no way a masterpiece, it was great to see a lot of actors known for their roles in big, blockbuster films tone it down and play complex characters for a change. The writing is strong, and the character work is good, but the film struggles to find what it is really trying to say. Is it a story about the families who live in the country with haunting ghosts of their pasts? Sure. Is it a story that dissects the importance and hypocrisies of the Christian faith? Kind of. Is it a story that offers interpretations for why people are the way that they are? Sort of. Ultimately, there is no real answer, and maybe that’s what the author and filmmakers were going for. However, a well-realized theme would have been the necessary push this film needed. 

The film’s dissection of the Christian faith is one that will discomfit a lot of my fellow believers. As a Christian and a movie nerd, I personally welcome people’s interpretation of faith and religion in art. It’s a way to understand how other people perceive Christians, however flawed or grandiose their interpretation might be. Granted, this film does not do a service to Christianity in any way. I found it interesting that the devil himself is only referenced once in the entire film while God or faith are mentioned in almost every scene. Was this a subtle jab at Christianity and the film’s identification of who the devil really is? I am inclined to think that it is. That being said, this film got me thinking: what am I doing to change the way people like the author look at me as a believer? Am I living for the Lord and showing the people around me His love, or am I showing a blind devotion to a legalistic religion?

It is rare that I feel convicted after viewing a movie. This film did exactly that. The story is entertaining to watch and holds some of the best acting this year, but it should also be a call to Christians that we have a job to do, one that will never be completed because the devil is at work all the time.

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