Review: Devil in Ohio

I binge-watched this Netflix series on a whim because I thought it might be Rust Belt Gothic—which it wasn’t (more Midwest)—but I enjoyed it a lot! It’s pretty popular on Netflix, so I thought I’d give you guys my verdict in case you’re on the fence about watching it.

Full disclosure: Devil in Ohio isn’t amazing. But it’s not bad either, and it’s enjoyable enough to make it worth a watch.

So why is the devil in Ohio, one of the most nondescript American states? Well. Devil in Ohio is based on a book, which is loosely inspired by a true story. And it’s a mysterious autumnal adventure, perfect for your September/October viewing.

Basically, we’ve got a devil-worshipping cult! The opening scene is Madeleine Arthur tearing through cornfields in a white dress. Clearly, Stuff Is Going On, and we are going to get to the bottom of it.

Arthur’s character is Mae Dodd, and as her social worker, Suzanne Mathis gets to know said mysterious girl, we learn about Mae’s incredibly screwed up past in an isolated cult. Suzanne, who had a similarly unpleasant childhood, brings Mae to live with her—and weird stuff starts happening. Stuff like the house Suzanne’s husband is desperately trying to sell getting burned to the ground, and crosses flipping upside down when Mae is around.

The cult—Sliocht an Diabhal (Traces/Descendants/Breed of the Devil in Irish—and it’s not pronounced too horribly by our American cast. But maybe my standards are low after Halloween II tried to convince us that “Samhain” meant “Lord of the dead” and American Horror Story pronounced it “Sam Hane.” For the curious, the word is said “sow-in,” and it means “November.”)—wants their sacrifice princess back, though, and Suzanne’s family starts doubting that their new border is as innocent as she claims.

Okay, now let’s get into it.

First of all, I Strongly Disagree with all the twitter discourse (as usual). A lot of people are saying Jules, Helen, Dani, and Peter are terrible people with no empathy toward Mae. I’ve also heard “Mae did nothing wrong!”

The cool thing about these characters is that they’re complex. Mae isn’t the perfect sad, too-good-for-this-world, self-destructive trauma victim. She’s manipulative, because she had to be to survive. She uses what happened to her for attention because she’s smart enough to know she’ll either get admired or mocked—and the choice is a no-brainer. Her moral compass is busted because she was raised by a devil-worshipping, human-sacrificing cult! To say Mae did some messed up stuff isn’t doing her a disservice—it’s acknowledging her full characterization.

Meanwhile, the Mathis family aren’t horrible people with no empathy. The kids are just that: kids who had their own childhood/adolescent problems. And yes, compared with a pentagram carved into your back, a sexuality crisis and musical auditions don’t seem like a big deal. But these are suburban kids with good lives encountering normal challenges, and it’s not reasonable to expect them to mature overnight and push aside their lives for Mae, particularly when she does things that hurt or upset them. There’s a great tension between Jules and Mae—two misfits looking for companionship in each other and of course ending up at odds.

Suzanne, too, is a tropey psychologist with her own trauma. In her therapy session, she acknowledges it with a wry laugh—but this is a trope that works! We’re eager to see Suzanne’s story through flashbacks, and no one can blame her for getting in pretty deep with Mae. She’s not a horrible mother, either, twitter-fiends. Suzanne is compassionate and trying to make a continuously unravelling situation work.

All that to say: I enjoyed the characters. Here’s that else I liked:

The crow motif! The midwestern suburban horror vibe that was absolutely nailed. Not all of the soundtrack, some a lot of it, particularly “Soul Cake” over a particularly dramatic ending.

Now for what I didn’t like:

The dialog. The fact that these characters were credulous to the point of stupidity. The improbable stuff like Suzanne getting to take Mae home in the first place, corn rows being that far apart, and Amontown getting to just…exist under the radar like that. The overdone Ohio State University product placement. The dropped plotlines that could have been really interesting but fell by the wayside.

Okay but also! Speaking of plot stuff! Some of the things People on the Internet said were bad writing, were actually just things they didn’t understand.

For example, [SPOILER WARNING] the supernatural-or-not teasing can all be resolved in a mundane way: Mae could have flipped the cross when the camera cut away from her, and the crow hitting the window could have been a coincidence.

And the soup plotline wasn’t Mae trying to poison anyone! She was attempting to keep Jules from meeting her brother, but Peter ate the soup by mistake and slept it off, with no one being any the wiser. Not everything you don’t understand is poor writing, people!

All in all, Devil in Ohio is a solid pre-Halloween watch! Don’t expect high-concept, artful TV, but if you go in expecting a fun and spooky cult mystery, you’ll probably enjoy the miniseries.

It doesn’t really need a sequel…but I’d watch one.