The Devil All the Time Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), a veteran of World War II in the South Pacific, returns to his hometown of Coal Creek, West Virginia, after the end of the war. On his way home at a roadside cafe in Meade, Ohio, he meets waitress Charlotte (Haley Bennett). In the same cafe at the same time, amateur photographer Karl Henderson (Jason Clark) meets another waitress – Sandy Henderson (Riley Keough), the sister of local police officer Lee Bodeker (Sebastian Stan), who in a few years will become a deputy sheriff in these parts.

Willard returns home to Cole Creek, where his mother Emma (Christine Griffith) tries to set her son up with a local girl, Helen Hutton (Mia Wasikowska). However, Helen is infatuated with a new local star – Reverend Roy Lafferty (Harry Melling), marries him and gives birth to a girl, Lenora (Eliza Scanlen). And Willard leaves for Ohio, marries Charlotte, she gives birth to their son Arvin (Tom Holland), after which Willard rents a house near the town of Knockemstiff, where they settle.

After some time, it turns out that Lenora and Arvin at a very young age will lose their parents and Emma, ​​Willard’s mother, will take them to her house.


This film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, written in the Southern Gothic style. Pollock was born and raised in Ohio, in that same Knockemstiff. He spent most of his life working in a local paper mill and driving trucks around the southern states. After fifty years, Donald unexpectedly entered the department of literature at Ohio University, graduated from it, in 2008 he published a collection of short stories “Nockemstiff”, and in 2011 he published the novella “The Devil is Always Here”. Despite the fact that this book was Pollock’s first, the story became very popular with both critics and readers.

Donald writes about things that he is well versed in: for several decades these small towns and their inhabitants in Ohio and West Virginia were before his eyes. Pollock describes the inhabitants of Knockemstiff as follows: “There live about four hundred inhabitants, related by blood through this or that godforsaken misfortune, be it lust, need, or simply ignorance.”

The script of the film based on this story was written by director Antonio Campos together with his screenwriter brother Paulo Campos. The project was financed by the streaming service Netflix.

Deputy Sheriff Lee Bodecker was originally supposed to be played by Chris Evans, but he was unable to take part in the project due to overlapping schedules and recommended Sebastian Stan, who played the superhero The Winter Soldier with Evans in all sorts of comic book “Avengers”, in his place.

Directed by Antonio Campos, before this film, he directed six full-length films, three of which, apparently, no one saw at all (empty ratings on IMDB), the other two – two hundred votes each, and only his previous film “Christine” (2016 year) it seems that there was even some kind of rental in cinemas, and on IMDB she has about thirteen thousand votes.

Also, Campos, as a director, staged some episodes for the series “The Punisher” and “The Sinner”: both of these series were ordered by Netflix.

The film “The Devil Is Always Here” is in some way a family saga: the action covers the 1940-1960s (roughly speaking, from the end of World War II to the beginning of the Vietnam War), most of the characters, to paraphrase the writer, are somehow related to each other by blood or through some kind of misfortune, be it sickness, religious obsession, meanness or ignorance.

This movie captivated me from the very beginning. Very bright production, excellent work of the cameraman: the film, which is not very typical for Netflix projects, was shot on 35mm film and, damn it, this “warm lamp film” is really visible here, although I don’t like such definitions.

The style is very similar to some of the films of the Coen brothers, who are my favorite directors: the Coens also made quite a few films about the American South of certain years in the same style of southern gothic. Moreover, the expression “the style is similar to the Coens” is a compliment in this case, because there is no borrowing here, just the production of Antonio Campos, despite the fact that this is actually his first notable picture, is very professional and resembles the work of recognized masters.

Yes, the film is quite depressing – here half of the people involved are, to one degree or another, unfortunate, religiously mad, corrupt officials, pedophiles, or even serial killers. And even “pure and bright souls” – children, and then teenagers who are trying to resist all this, are not able to win, because this evil – it spreads everywhere, despite the fact that between the towns of Knockemstiff and Cole Creek under four hundred kilometers.

But there is absolutely no smut in the film as such: it simply shows what happened to the lives of many people in those American towns in those years. And let me remind you that the writer Donald Ray Pollock knows very well what he is talking about.

The filmmakers have no desire to somehow shock the audience with all sorts of gore. Yes, there are some shocking scenes, especially the episode when Willard received his psychological trauma in the war, but basically a lot of things remain behind the scenes: it is more important to show the development of events, how it all began and where it all goes.

The production, in my opinion, is simply outstanding: it is very well done, which was difficult to expect from a little-known director.

Of the iconic moments – almost the entire film is accompanied by a voice-over, which explains certain subtleties that are not transmitted by the action in the picture. On the one hand, such an approach among critics is considered somewhat cheap: from the series that if you can’t convey all the subtleties of the story with action, then there’s no point in launching a voice-over. On the other hand, the film is already quite long (but not drawn out in any way, I note), and the voice simply helps not to waste time chewing on some moments.

Well, I note that the voiceover belongs to the writer Donald Ray Pollock, the author of the original story. The writer himself, by the way, never took part in any audio recordings of his works, but here he made an exception. And, in my opinion, it is quite justified, and it sounds great.

Yes, of course, this is reminiscent of the famous voice-over from the awesome Gunfighter sketch, where this voice was dubbed by Nick Offerman. But there was a sketch, but here, I assure you, there are absolutely no reasons for joy.

Several fairly well-known actors starred in the film.

Bill Skarsgard as Willard is great. The war trauma, the obsession with religion, due to the same trauma, the certain demeanor that he demonstrates to his nine-year-old son – this is very well done.

Harry Melling, who seems to have migrated here from the wonderful Cohen film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”, portrayed another reverend, slightly crazy on the basis of his religious ideas. By the way, regarding the vivid scene where the reverend demonstrates that he has learned to cope with his inner demons by releasing weaver spiders from a jar on his head, one of the articles on IMDB says the following, and I quote:

Bonus – the matured Dudley from Harry Potter (Harry Melling) knocks over a jar of living (but, unfortunately, clearly computer-generated) spiders to prove the existence of a god.

Somehow these spiders didn’t seem to me to be computer ones, I went to read information about the movie on IMDB, and it turned out there that the spiders were still real (I don’t know, the hell the actor needed it): Actor Harry Melling dumped real orb-weaver spiders on his head.

Robert Pattinson perfectly portrayed the frankly nasty Reverend Preston Tigardeen, who, unlike Melling’s character, is not at all a religious fanatic: he is a very cynical, undoubtedly charismatic and extremely hypocritical type who uses his position to seduce underage girls. And when he rewards them with the “fruit of passion”, Preston declares the girls crazy, and even reads a sermon on this occasion, during which the parishioners shout in delight: “Praise the Lord”, “Everything is so”, “Amen”.

By the way, the somewhat strange southern pronunciation of Preston is the authorship of Pattinson himself. He, unlike other actors who studied with specialists in pronunciation and dialects, came up with his own pronunciation. And showed it to the director only during filming. Tom liked this option, and it was left in the picture.

I really like the actor Tom Holland in the role of “Spider-Man”: charming, bright, emotional, very natural. But here is a completely different character, and played perfectly! This is actually such an American Danila Bagrov from the movie “Brother” (the first, of course, by no means from the completely pop second).

He received his terrible psychological trauma in childhood, he is very unemotional, capable of quick and cruel (at the same time fair) retribution, which his father taught him, inside him is a program of self-destruction, which was due to what he experienced and what he was still destined to survive . And the cool thing is that the demeanor of his character did not correlate in any way with the appearance of the actor from the series “Handsome boy from next door”, and the character turned out to be very bright.

Eliza Scanlen, who played Arvin’s adult sister Lenora, I remember from the role of a very difficult girl Emma from the TV series “Sharp Objects”. She has a small role here, but quite noticeable.

Well, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough are good as two outright thugs who catch male hitchhikers, mock them in their own perverted ritual and kill them. And these are quite important characters in the film – they connect several plot threads.

Actor Sebastian Stan, who played Deputy Sheriff Lee Bodeker, had a special brace inserted into his mouth that changed his face beyond recognition. I didn’t really understand why this was done: he is generally a very good actor, I remember him from the role of Tony Harding’s husband in the movie Tonya Against Everyone. Here Stan played well, but what the hell is this strut – I still do not understand.

An excellent film, very powerful and downright iconic. I’m very glad I watched it. However, it is clear that this film will cause a certain rejection among a certain part of the audience. Depressing from start to finish, good doesn’t triumph over evil, and even at the end don’t expect a traditional Hollywood happy ending: here the ending is completely in the paradigm of the entire movie.

Powerful script, masterfully choreographed, superbly filmed, brilliant acting. A truly remarkable film, in my opinion.


The Devil Is Always Here / The Devil All the Time movie meaning

Director: Antonio Campos Cast: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, Hayley Bennett, Riley Keough, Harry Melling, Sebastian Stan, Mia Wasikowska, Eliza Scanlen, Jason Clarke

Psychological thriller, USA, 2020, 138 min.

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