Starring: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård, Sebastian Stan, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Netflix’s thriller drama directed and co-written by Antonio Campos. Set in rural southern Ohio and West Virginia, the story follows a set of characters from the end of World War II to the 1960s, including Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), a tormented veteran, Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), a lecherous preacher, Carl and Sandy Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), a serial-killing couple, and Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan), a corrupt sheriff. And caught in the middle of all this is Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), Willard’s orphaned son, who grows up to be a good but violent man in his own right, who will do everything he can to protect the ones he love against sinister characters.
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Our Favorite Quote:'Some people were born just so they could be buried.' - Lee Bodecker (The Devil All the Time) Click To Tweet
Narrator: Now, if you asked most people where Knockemstiff, Ohio, or Coal Creek, West Virginia were, they probably couldn’t point them out to you on a map. But I guarantee, they’d be there all the same. How and why so many people from those two piddling places on that map could end up connected has a lot to do with our story. Some would claim it was just dumb luck, while others might swear it was God’s intention. But I’d say with the way things turned out, it was a little bit of both.
Narrator: Four hundred or so people lived in Knockemstiff in 1957, nearly all of them connected by blood by one godforsaken calamity or another, be it lust, or necessity, or just plain ignorance.
Narrator: Years ago, Willard had fitted together a weathered cross above a fallen tree in a small clearing behind his house. He came every morning and evening to talk to God. It seemed to his son that his father fought the Devil all the time.
[as Carl offers his seat to Willard at the diner]
Narrator: Right before Willard fell in love, the man whose seat he took would also meet his match.
[as Sandy serves Carl at the diner]
Sandy Henderson: You take pictures?
Carl Henderson: Only when I find a smile pretty enough to photograph, that is.
Narrator: In the years to come, Carl would call Sandy “the bait”, and she’d called him “the shooter”. Both called their victims “the models”.
[as Willard sees Charlotte giving food to the homeless man outside the diner]
Willard Russell: That was nice, what you did.
Charlotte Russell: Some people just need a little help once in a while. You know what I mean?
Willard Russell: Yep.
[as Willard gives Earskell a gun]
Willard Russell: Now, this here is supposed to be the gun that Hitler used to blow his brains out.
Earskell: You still got the bulls**t in you, ain’t you?
Willard Russell: You think that guy lied to me?
Earskell: [chuckles] Yeah. That is a nice gift though.
[after he returns home, referring to Charlotte]
Willard Russell: I’m in love.
Emma: What’s this girl’s name?
Willard Russell: Well, I ain’t never got her name.
Emma: Earskell. You ain’t got her name?
Willard Russell: I left her a dollar tip, though.
Earskell: A what?
Emma: For a cup of coffee?
Earskell: Well, she won’t forget that.
Narrator: Willard didn’t know that Emma had promised God, that in exchange for bringing him home safe, she’d make sure he married Helen Hatton. The girl’s family had burned up in a house fire leaving the poor thing all alone.
Roy Laferty: [preaching] What is it you’re most afraid of? Hmm? Because if your worst fear is rats, well, Satan will make sure you get your fill of them. Brothers and sisters, you’ll see them, eating away at you whilst you lay there unable to lift a single finger. And it won’t ever cease. A million years in eternity. Now, don’t even try and figure that up. Ain’t no human head big enough to calculate misery like that! Yeah? And really, brothers and sisters, ain’t no man ever been evil enough, not even that Hitler fella, come up with the ways Satan’s going to make them sinners pay come the Judgment Day!
[as empties a jar of spiders onto his face]
Roy Laferty: Mark my word, people! The Spirit will take away your fears if you’re willing!
Narrator: Emma was concerned that something bad might happen if she couldn’t keep her promise to God. Helen did, in fact, meet the man she would marry that afternoon. And Willard’s mind was already hundreds of miles away.
Narrator: Though he hadn’t talked to God in years, not a single petition or word of praise since he’d come across the crucified Marine. Willard could feel it welling up inside him now, the urge to get right with his maker, before something bad happened to his family.
[after Willard and Charlotte and their young baby son move to their new house]
Willard Russell: Things are good, mama. We found a place in a holler called Knockemstiff. Arvin just turned one, and he has lots of grass to play on now. We’re saving money to buy the house one day. So things are going to be tight for a while. We’ll get to you as soon as possible. Your son, Willard. P.S. I got the urge to pray again.
Narrator: In 1957, Arvin Eugene Russell was nine years-old. He was the only kid on the school bus who wasn’t somebody’s relation. Three days before, he’d come home with another black eye.
[as Willard takes young Arvin to his prayer log]
Willard Russell: Them boys might be bigger than you. But the next time one of them starts his s**t, I want you to finish it. You understand?
Young Arvin: Yes, sir.
Willard Russell: Now, you pray on what happened today. And remember, be honest, no bulls**tting. He’ll know.
[after Willard beats up the poachers]
Willard Russell: Now you remember what I told you? About them boys on the bus that gave you the black eye? That’s what I meant. Just got to pick the right time.
Young Arvin: Yes, sir.
Willard Russell: There’s a lot of no good sons of b**ches out there.
Young Arvin: More than a hundred?
Willard Russell: [chuckles] Yeah, at least that many.
Narrator: Arvin would often think back on this day as the best one he ever spent with his father.
[to young Arvin, after they find out Charlotte has cancer]
Willard Russell: Now, them doctors can’t do your mom any good. But He can save her. Yeah, if we just pray hard enough. The Lord can do anything, if you just ask him right. Okay?
Now hold them tight. And pray like you mean it.
[referring to Willard, who is clearly suffering as Charlotte’s cancer gets worse]
Narrator: It occurred to him that maybe something more was expected than just his prayers and sincerity. God had a tendency of asking men to make sacrifices in order to prove their faith.
[after Willard kills their dog to offer as a sacrifice]
Willard Russell: Lord, this here is my boy’s dog. We loved him. He loved him. Now you take him!
Young Arvin: [crying] Bring him back!
Willard Russell: You save Charlotte! It’s going to be alright, Arvin. It’s going to be alright.
[after young Arvin finds Willard’s dead body at their prayer log]
Lee Bodecker: Well, this better not be one of them goddamn window peepers you keep calling about.
Hank: I wish it was. It’s about this boy’s daddy.
Lee Bodecker: Well, what is it, son?
Young Arvin: He’s dead.
Hank: And they buried his poor mama today. It’s a damn shame, it is.
Lee Bodecker: Is that blood on your face?
Young Arvin: No. Somebody left us a pie.
[as young Arvin takes Bodecker to the prayer log to show him Willard’s body]
Lee Bodecker: What the hell is this?
Young Arvin: It’s a prayer log.
Lee Bodecker: Prayer log?
Young Arvin: Yeah. But it don’t work too good.
Narrator: Roy had been bitten on the cheek by a spider while preaching a sermon, and his head had puffed up as big as a pumpkin. In the time it took the swelling to go down, he’d become convinced that the Lord was testing him to see if he was ready to take on something bigger. He’d stayed in the dark closet for a fortnight waiting on an answer. He smelled worse than a truck-stop s**tter.
[after he stabs Helen in the neck, killing her]
Roy Laferty: God, I’ve heard your word. Helen, I resurrect you with the grace of God in me. I resurrect you! Return! God! It is time! Resurrect! Return!
Roy Laferty: I could tell the police what happened. That it was an accident.
Theodore: You stabbed your wife in the neck with a screwdriver. Tried to bring her back from the dead, and then buried her body. That ain’t an accident, Roy. That sounds like a crazy person who killed his wife.
[we see Roy has hitched a ride with Carl and Sandy]
Roy Laferty: Mister, I do appreciate this.
Carl Henderson: I don’t understand people that won’t pick up strangers. It should be a good thing, helping someone out.
Roy Laferty: You sound like a Christian.
Sandy Henderson: Carl used to teach at Sunday school. Didn’t you, babe?
Carl Henderson: That’s right.
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