‘Devil In Ohio’ Review: A Miniseries Defined By Schlocky Performances, Cliche Storytelling And Bad Horror


It is common knowledge that TV shows, limited series, and movies follow two different forms of storytelling. The former takes place over the course of several episodes, and the latter wraps things up in a few hours, which can stretch from anywhere between 90 minutes to 4 hours. And these two forms are not interchangeable. A story that’s substantial enough to be turned into a show cannot be compressed into a movie. Similarly, a story that has enough substance for a movie cannot be stretched out into a show. However, across generations, many studios and OTT platforms have tried to do this and have failed every single time. Have they learned anything, though? Well, since “Devil in Ohio” exists (which, if we are being honest, should’ve been a short film at most), it is evident that they haven’t.

“Devil in Ohio” is based on the book of the same name by Daria Polatin, who is also the showrunner of the miniseries. The episodes are directed by John Fawcett, Steven A. Adelson, Leslie Hope, and Brad Anderson. It follows a girl called Mae (Madeleine Arthur) who escapes a cult, hitches a ride, and is admitted to a hospital. One of the leading doctors at that hospital is Suzanne (Emily Deschanel). She is married to a real estate agent of sorts, Peter (Sam Jaeger). They have three children: Helen (Alisha Newton), Jules (Xaria Dotson), and Dani (Naomi Tan). While examining Mae, Suzanne finds she has a bloody pentagram etched into her back and that she’s from Amontown, a place notorious for worshiping Satan/Lucifer. Fearing that she’s going to be killed or worse, taken back to the cult, Suzanne lets Mae stay at her house. And, of course, things go sideways.

So, like most stories, there’s an A plot, a B plot, and a C plot to kind of tie it all together. The A plot follows Suzanne and her family and shows how Mae is integrating into it and impacting Suzanne, Peter, Helen, Jules, and Dani’s lives. Every member of the family has their own sub-plots. Suzanne wants to seek out Mae’s actual family while dealing with the trauma of her abusive past. Peter wants to sell a house that’s a big investment. Jules wants to feature her photos in the college magazine. Helen and Dani are there to hang around. The B plot is that of the cult, which is essentially waiting for Mae to either return to them on her own or search for an opportunity to grab her and forcefully take her back. The C sub-plot involves Detective Lopez (Gerardo Celasco) uncovering the mystery surrounding the cult and Mae’s connection to it.

As you can clearly see, since Suzanne and Lopez’s arcs are quite similar, having two characters do the same thing is counter-productive. But it makes sense to keep the focus on Suzanne because Mae is literally living with her. So, every time the show takes us to Lopez, it feels like “Devil in Ohio” is asking us to show interest in a guy who has no such investment in the case at hand. Then there’s the cult. All they do is wait, sneak, and wait some more. They actively engage with the A plot in the fifth episode! And then they muck about for two more episodes before deciding to do something in the finale. As for the A plot itself, Suzanne and her family are so downright annoying and insufferable that you can’t help but wish for Mae to go into “The Manchurian Candidate” mode and kill them all.

On top of all that, there’s the exposition. Here’s how “Devil in Ohio” uses the storytelling tool that’s called flashbacks. A character asks another character something about their past. The miniseries goes into flashback mode to show us what has happened in detail. Then it returns to the present day, only to show us that the character (whose flashback we just saw) is sitting in silence. It’s as if they are waiting for us to finish watching their flashback so that they can then explain what we’ve just seen all over again. And if that’s not the worst form of exposition, I don’t know what is. Usually, flashbacks are used to visualize the exposition that’s happening off-screen. Or sometimes, the character whose past we are flashing back to narrates over the visuals to deliver the necessary information in an efficient manner. Why does this miniseries absolutely chuck this concept, you ask? Simple. It’s to pad the run time.

As mentioned before, “Devil in Ohio” doesn’t have enough plot, engaging characters, or interesting situations for said characters to run into. But it wants you to stay on Netflix for a long amount of time. So, it stretches itself into eight boring-as-hell episodes, each of which runs for around 40 minutes. Additionally, it doesn’t do anything visually compelling to help you make your way through those episodes. Will Bates’s music, Corey Robson’s cinematography, Jamie Alain, Andrew Cohen and Erin Deck’s editing, Margot Ready’s production design, Justin Neenan’s art direction, Patricia J. Henderson’s costume design, and the hair and make-up by Calla Syna Dreyer and Katalin Lippay are all egregiously pedestrian. The opening credits will make you think that it’s on par with “Midnight Mass” or “Dark.” However, it only matches up to the quality of CW shows from the mid-2000s. The miniseries’ only saving grace is the acting department, and that too, for not being very good.

I want to preface this section by saying that an actor’s performance is always not up to them. It depends on the direction and the writing. So, consider this a critique of the final product and not the actor’s abilities. Emily Deschanel, Sam Jaeger, Gerardo Celasco, Samantha Ferris, and Naomi Tan seem like they are in a different reality in comparison to everyone else in the cast. Alisha Newton is constantly clueless. Madeleine Arthur’s mind seems to be in “Color Out of Space.” But since she doesn’t have a Nicolas Cage to play off of, she quickly becomes irritating; something that isn’t helped by her monotonous dialogue delivery. Tahmoh Penikett thinks he’s in a campy Shakespearean stage show. Bradley Stryker has absorbed every cop character set in the South of the USA and vomited it onto the screen. Xaria Dotson is so bland that you will forget she is a central character in this miniseries. Jason Sakaki is unnecessarily over-the-top. And then there’s Lilah Fitzgerald.

Lilah Fitzgerald’s performance as the teenage version of Suzanne should be put up in whatever is the Louvre Museum of cinema. If there isn’t a Louvre Museum of cinema, it should be built so that people can come there every day and watch Teen Suzanne do her thing. Because people need to know that even in this day and age, despite the existence of multiple directors, expert casting directors, advisors to the showrunner, and executives associated with OTT platforms, this kind of performance can get the green light. To give you a little context, Fitzgerald is tasked with showing Suzanne’s abusive past. The miniseries wants you to empathize with this girl so that you can empathize with the woman she has become. It wants you to feel her pain and suffering and eventual triumph. But how is one supposed to do that when they can’t stop laughing at that horrendous dialogue-delivery and hilarious expressions? I, for one, do not know.

In conclusion, “Devil in Ohio” is a badly made miniseries that wants to capitalize on the somewhat niche trend of horror films about cults, even though its definition of horror is fake jump scares. So, instead of wasting your time on this, watch a good horror movie or show that’s centered around cults. Here are some examples: “Hereditary,” “Midsommar,” “The Empty Man,” “Get Out,” “Midnight Mass,” “The Ritual,” “Doctor Sleep,” “Jiok,” “Get Duked!”, the “Fear Street” trilogy, “A Classic Horror Story,” “The Invitation,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Incantation,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Wicker Man,” “Suspiria,” “Children of the Corn,” “Eyes Wide Shut,” “The Village,” “Martyrs,” “Kill List,” “The Master,” “The Sacrament,” “The Veil,” “The Void,” “Mandy,” “The Lodge,” “The Leftovers,” “Orphan Black,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “The Endless.” Even after seeing this varied and massive list, if you are still interested in checking out “Devil in Ohio,” please, do so. But you’ve been warned.

See More: ‘Devil In Ohio’ Ending, Explained: Does Mae Return To The Cult? Has Mae Trapped Suzanne?

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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