Created by: Donald Ray Pollock
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Written by: Antonio & Paula Campos
Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born
Other cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson
Premiere date: 11 September 2020
Running time: 138 minutes
Sinister characters converge around a young man devoted to protecting those he loves in a post-war backwoods town teeming with corruption and brutality.
During World War II, while serving in the Solomon Islands, Marine Willard Russell finds Gunnery Sergeant Miller Jones skinned and left to die on a cross by the Japanese. He shoots Miller to end his misery. Haunted by the experience, Willard loses his faith in God.
After the war, on his way home to Coal Creek, West Virginia, Willard passes through Meade, Ohio, where he meets Charlotte, a waitress at a diner. Willard and Charlotte marry and move to Knockemstiff, Ohio, where they have a child named Arvin.
In 1950, Helen Hatton, a neighbor of Willard’s family, marries the disturbingly charismatic evangelical preacher Roy Laferty, who pours live spiders over his body during his sermons. They have a child named Lenora. Roy is bitten by a spider on his face and has a severe allergic reaction that affects his grip on reality. Believing that he can resurrect the dead, he takes Helen out into the woods, kills her and tries to resurrect her, but fails. After realizing his actions, he abandons his crippled brother Theodore and tries to return home to Lenora. Roy hitchhikes and gets a ride with a pair of married serial killers, Carl Henderson and his wife Sandy. Their ritual involves picking up male hitchhikers, encouraging them to have sex with Sandy while Carl takes photographs, and then murdering them. Carl murders Roy by shooting him in the head after he refuses to have sex with Sandy.
In 1957, Charlotte is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Willard believes that if he prays fervently enough he can influence God to save her life. He obsessively and strenuously prays to God, kneeling before a rustic cross he had erected in the woods behind his house. Despite going so far as to crucify Arvin’s dog as a sacrifice, Charlotte dies. Willard commits suicide by slitting his own throat. Now an orphan, Arvin goes to live with his grandmother and his uncle in Coal Creek. At his new home, Arvin meets his adopted “step-sister”, Lenora Russell.
In 1965, Arvin is given his father’s Luger pistol as a birthday present. The church has a new preacher, Reverend Preston Teagarden. Some bullies have been harassing Lenora, and Arvin confronts and savagely beats them. Preston takes advantage of Lenora’s innocence and then tricks her into having sex with him, resulting in her becoming pregnant. She tells Preston, but he refuses to acknowledge the child as his own and calls her a whore. Not wanting to bring shame to the family, she is about to commit suicide by hanging before realizing she and her baby would be fine. However, she slips, accidentally hanging herself. Arvin is told that she was pregnant and suspects that Preston was the father. He follows Preston and sees him seduce and have sex with another girl. At the church, Arvin confronts Preston and kills him with the Luger before fleeing in his truck.
Arvin hitchhikes and is picked up by Carl and Sandy. When Carl tries to make a move on Arvin, Arvin shoots him in the chest. Sandy and Arvin then shoot each other at the same time, but Carl had earlier loaded Sandy’s gun with blanks, feeling he couldn’t trust her. Sandy dies, and Arvin finds a fetish collection in the car’s glove box consisting of a picture of Sandy holding Roy’s dead body and rolls of film. Sandy’s brother Lee Bodecker, Meade’s corrupt sheriff, learns about Sandy’s murder, and to protect himself and his reelection campaign, goes to Carl and Sandy’s apartment and finds and burns all of Carl’s photos and any other incriminating evidence.
Arvin goes to Meade to visit his childhood home. Sheriff Bodecker learns that Arvin murdered Preston from the Coal Creek sheriff and decides to kill him. They confront each other in the woods where Willard’s rustic cross resides, where Arvin is able to get off a single shot that fatally wounds the sheriff. Before he dies, Arvin confronts Sheriff Bodecker with the picture of Sandy posing with Roy’s dead body. Arvin plants the film and photos on Bodecker’s corpse to expose Carl’s crimes. Before fleeing from the scene, Arvin buries the Luger with his dog’s remains.
Arvin hitchhikes and is picked up by a hippie driving a VW van. As he is riding in a car with a stranger, he tries very hard not to fall asleep. The film ends with him daydreaming and contemplating his future as possibly a husband or as a soldier in the Vietnam War.
The film was announced in September 2018, with Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Chris Evans and Mia Wasikowska in talks to star. Antonio Campos was set to write and direct the film, with Jake Gyllenhaal serving as the film’s producer. In January 2019, Bill Skarsgård and Eliza Scanlen joined the cast, and Netflix was set to distribute the film.
Sebastian Stan was cast to replace Chris Evans after scheduling conflicts caused him to drop out and personally recommended Stan for the role. Additionally, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough and Haley Bennett were announced as part of the cast, and Harry Melling was later announced in March 2019.
Principal photography began on 19 February, 2019, in Alabama, with filming locations including Blount County, Anniston, Deatsville, Pell City, Birmingham and Montevallo. Filming completed on two months later on 15 April 2019.
The film was released in select theatres on 11 September 11, 2020 ahead of its digital Netflix release on 16 September 2020. Over the course of its first two days, the film was the most watched Netflix title, and third overall within its first five days.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 64% based on 193 reviews, with an average rating of 6.3/10.
Robert Pattinson took inspiration for his character by watching videos of televangelists, and pop-stars from the time period.
The screenplay was adapted from the 2011 novel The Devil All the Time from author Donald Ray Pollock, who also voiced the narration in the film. It was the first time he has done any narrating, not even doing the voice work for his own audio books.
Harry Melling dumped real orb-weaver spiders on his head. He said that he was okay with it as long as the spiders weren’t changed to snakes.
Despite having top billing, Tom Holland doesn’t appear until 46 minutes into the film.
Despite the setting being deep central United States, only three of the principal cast members – Haley Bennett, Kristin Griffith and Riley Keough – are American.
There are thirteen deaths in the film, referring to the superstition centred around the number 13.