It is common knowledge that TV shows, limited series, and movies follow two different forms of storytelling. The first takes place over several episodes, and the second ends in a few hours, which can range from 90 minutes to 4 hours. And these two forms are not interchangeable. A story substantial enough to be made into a spectacle cannot be compressed into a film. Similarly, a story that has enough substance for a movie can’t be stretched for a show. However, across the generations, many studios and OTT platforms have tried to do this and failed every time. Did they learn anything, though? Well, since “Devil in Ohio” exists (which, if we’re being honest, should have been a short film at most), obviously it isn’t.
“Devil in Ohio” is based on the book of the same name by Daria Polatin, who also serves as the miniseries‘ showrunner. 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 the hospital. One of the main doctors at this hospital is Suzanne (Emily Deschanel). She’s 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 discovers that she has a bloody pentagram carved into her back and that she is from Amontown, a place known to worship Satan/Lucifer. Afraid of being killed or worse, brought back to the cult, Suzanne lets Mae stay at home. And, of course, things go wrong.
So, like most stories, there’s an A-plot, a B-plot, and a C-plot to kind of tie it all together. Plot A follows Suzanne and her family and shows how Mae fits into it and impacts the lives of Suzanne, Peter, Helen, Jules and Dani. Each family member has their own subplots. Suzanne wants to find Mae’s real family while dealing with the trauma of her violent past. Peter wants to sell a house which represents a big investment. Jules wants to publish his photos in the college magazine. Helen and Dani are here to hang out. The B-plot is that of the cult, essentially waiting for Mae to come back on her own or looking for an opportunity to grab her and forcefully take her back. Subplot C 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 doing the same thing is counterproductive. But it makes sense to keep the focus on Suzanne because Mae literally lives 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 doesn’t have such an investment in the case at hand. Then there is worship. All they do is wait, sneak around and wait some more. They actively engage in the A-plot in the fifth episode! And then they have fun 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 Mae went into “The Manchurian Candidate” mode and killed them all.
On top of all that, there’s the exhibition. Here’s how “Devil in Ohio” uses the storytelling tool called flashbacks. A character asks another character about their past. The miniseries goes into flashback mode to show us what happened in detail. Then he flashes back to the present day, only to show us that the character (whose flashback we just saw) is sitting in silence. It’s like they’re waiting for us to finish watching their flashback so they can then explain to us what we just watched. And if that’s not the worst form of exposure, I don’t know what is. Usually, flashbacks are used to visualize the exposition happening off-screen. Or sometimes the character whose past we are recalling tells on the visuals to provide the necessary information in an effective way. Why does this miniseries absolutely reject that concept, you ask? Simple. This is to round up the execution time.
As mentioned earlier, “Devil in Ohio” doesn’t have enough plot, engaging characters, or interesting situations for said characters to relate to. But he wants you to stay on Netflix for a long time. So, it stretches into eight boring-as-hell episodes, each of which is around 40 minutes long. Plus, it doesn’t do anything visually compelling to help you navigate your way through these episodes. Music by Will Bates, Cinematography by Corey Robson, Editing by Jamie Alain, Andrew Cohen and Erin Deck, Production Design by Margot Ready, Art Direction by Justin Neenan, Costume Design by Patricia J. Henderson, as well as Calla Syna Dreyer and Katalin Lippay’s hair and makeup are all extremely pedestrian. The opening credits will have you thinking it’s on par with “Midnight Mass” or “Dark.” However, that only matches the quality of the CW shows of 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 not always his. It depends on the direction and the writing. So consider this a critique of the final product and not of the actor’s abilities. Emily Deschanel, Sam Jaeger, Gerardo Celasco, Samantha Ferris and Naomi Tan seem to be in a different reality than all the other actors. Alisha Newton is constantly distraught. Madeleine Arthur’s spirit seems to be in “Color Out of Space”. But since she has no Nicolas Cage to play, she quickly becomes irritating; something that isn’t helped by his monotonous dialogue delivery. Tahmoh Penikett thinks he’s in a Shakespearean theatrical show. Bradley Stryker absorbed all the southern cop characters and spewed them onto the screen. Xaria Dotson is so bland you’ll forget she’s a central character in this miniseries. Jason Sakaki is needlessly exaggerated. And then there’s Lilah Fitzgerald.
Lilah Fitzgerald’s performance in the teenage version of Suzanne is set to be set in what’s at the Louvre Cinema Museum. If there is no Louvre Museum of cinema, it should be built so that people can come there every day and see Teen Suzanne doing her thing. Because people should know that even nowadays, despite the existence of several directors, expert casting directors, showrunner advisers and executives associated with OTT platforms, this kind of performance can get the green light. To give you some context, Fitzgerald is responsible for showing Suzanne’s abusive past. The miniseries wants you to empathize with this girl so you can empathize with the woman she has become. He wants you to feel his pain and suffering and his eventual triumph. But how are you supposed to do that when you can’t stop laughing at that horrible dialogue and those hilarious expressions? For my part, I don’t know.
In conclusion, “Devil in Ohio” is a poorly made miniseries that wants to capitalize on the somewhat niche trend of cult horror movies, even if its definition of horror is fake fear. So, instead of wasting your time on this, watch a good horror movie or cult-centric show. Here are some examples: “Hereditary”, “Midsommar”, “The Empty Man”, “Get Out”, “Midnight Mass“, “The Ritual”, “Doctor Sleep”, “Jiok”, “Get Duked!”, the “street of fear“trilogy”,A classic horror story“, “The Invitation”, “Hot Fuzz”, “Incantation”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Wicker Man”, “Suspiria”, “The Corn Children”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, ” The Village”, “Martyrs”, “Kill List”, “The Master”, “The Sacrament”, “The Veil”, “The Void”, “Mandy”, “The Lodge”, “The Leftovers”, “black orphan“, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Infinity”. Even after seeing this varied and massive list, if you’re still interested in checking out “Devil in Ohio,” please do. But you have been warned.