The Devil All the Time has come out now on Netflix, nearly a decade after the book it is based on was released. In 2011, author Donald Ray Pollock released the Southern gothic novel, which straight away was getting cinematic comparisons, with people wanting the movie made into a film.
On one release of the book, for example, there was a cover quote reading: “If the Coen brothers want their next Oscar they should buy the rights to this book.” Other copies of the book featured a synopsis that said the novel had “the twisted intensity of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.”
This is something established right from the opening of the book, which read: “Four hundred or so people lived in Knockemstiff in 1957, nearly all of them connected by blood through one godforsaken calamity or another, be it lust or necessity or just plain ignorance.”
The title of the book and film come from early in its prologue: “Unless he had whiskey running through his veins, Willard came to the clearing every morning and evening to talk to God. Arvin didn’t know which was worse, the drinking or the praying. As far back as he could remember, it seemed that his father had fought the devil all the time.”
Pollock himself has a backstory that could fit nicely into his novel. He did not become a writer until later in life, after getting sober and working at the local paper mill for 30 years. Speaking about this to Terry Gross on Fresh Air, he said: “Well, you know, I’d always been a big reader, as I said. And I loved books. And I think maybe in the back of my mind, you know, I always thought writing would be a great way to get by in the world…I had a problem with drinking and…it was one of those fantasies that, when you got half-loaded, you started daydreaming or whatever, it was one of those things that you thought about.
“But then finally, when I was 45, my dad retired from the paper mill. And there was just something about watching him retire and go home. And, you know, that was, you know, pretty much the end of his career. And it really bothered me, and I just decided I had to try something else, you know, some other way to spend the rest of my life.”
Now, the author has written two novels and a short story collection, Knockemstiff. Not only, that, however, but he plays a crucial part in the Netflix version of The Devil All the Time. The voiceover that ties the film together is delivered by Pollock himself, making the film a literal extension of the author’s voice.
Director Antonio Campos told Sight & Sound about adapting the novel for the screen: “It’s a complicated story, a lot of moving parts. It takes place over the course of a long period of time, and my brother [Paulo Campos, who co-wrote the screenplay] and I were very committed to being faithful, if not to a literal adaptation, then faithful to the essence of the book and Don’s intention.”
However, the director also admitted that to turn the 270-page novel into a 138-minute movie, they had to cut some stuff they loved from the book. He said: “It was a long process because we really did love so much of the book, but it was important that we had to be very brutal with it, like, ‘we love that but there’s no place for it here, get it out.’ We had to make some tough choices.”
The Devil All the Time is streaming now on Netflix.
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