(Scroll to the bottom for audio review and explainer)
A scared young girl dressed in white robes desperately runs through a corn field, knife in hand, until she reaches the main road and asks passing vehicles for help. That’s the opening scene of 2022 Netflix thriller series ‘Devil in Ohio’ created and written by Daria Polatin.
Madeleine Arthur plays Mae Dodd, the young protagonist of the show, who manages to escape a religious cult. Emily Deschanel is Dr Suzanne Mathis, a psychiatrist and mother of three girls decides to take in Mae until the authorities can find a safe foster home her. But the consequences of Mae’s presence in the Mathis house is far more complicated and damaging than the psychiatrist expects it to be. For starters, it takes a toll on Suzanne’s already fragile relationship with her husband Peter (Sam Jaegar) who is struggling professionally.
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Eight episodes long, the Netflix thriller has an interesting premise and draws intriguing parallels between its two women leads – Mae is the young teen, freshly rescued from an abusive environment, while Suzanne has scars of her own from a difficult childhood that she still hasn’t come to terms with. So, you have a ‘saviour complex’ theme going on. For the uninitiated, ‘saviour complex’ alternatively known as the ‘messiah complex’ is a psychological state of believing that you are meant to save somebody. Suzanne thinks it’s her responsibility to keep Mae safe from the cult that’s after her. There’s also a slow-burn investigation going on in the series, an officer called Detective Lopez (Gerardo Celasco) takes it upon himself to find out more about Mae’s cult and their possible role in a bunch of mysterious cold-cases in town.
Unfortunately, the show is never able to build enough dread to keep viewers on edge. However, on the other hand, the climax was weak and disappointing, so it’s probably good thing that the pace and mood of the series is on the tepid side throughout. Basically, the title ‘Devil in Ohio’ makes you anticipate a dark twisted thriller tale, however, the show isn’t all that serious or disturbing. It’s the performances by the main cast that might keep viewers around until the end.
Not once did it occur to me that Madeline Arthur was in the popular Netflix romantic movie trilogy ‘To All The Boys…’, where she played Lara Jean’s best-friend Chris. So, casting-decision wise, Madeline Arthur was quite perfect for Mae’s role, she easily switches between creepy and innocently vulnerable, depending on what the scene demands. Visually, she is an interesting mash of Dakota Fanning and Amanda Seyfried, and like those actors, she shines in emotionally demanding sequences. Emily Deschanel as Dr Mathis is the backbone of the show, her calm confident voice and over-protective behaviour drives the plot forward, although her character progression does become a little problematic as more episodes unfold. For someone who is a psychiatrist, Dr Mathis is a dubious character who doesn’t know how to read the mood of the room, is a terrible listener and makes some very questionably decisions.
The series works better as a family drama, where viewers get to see the kind of challenges a couple can face when they decide to adopt a child. Mae forms a strong friendship with Suzanne’s middle-daughter Jules, the two are of the same age and even get to be in the same class when Mae is enrolled into school. Xaria Dotson is quite engaging as the socially awkward Jules, who aspires to be a photographer and finds it hard to fit in at school. Naomi Tan plays youngest of Suzanne’s daughter; she is a cute firecracker as Dani who loves to sing and does sing like a rockstar. Despite her limited screentime, Tan stands out in the cast with her sweet cameo. Alisha Newton as the eldest Helen didn’t do much value addition to the story, if they removed her sub-plot completely, it would’ve made little difference to the series.
One of the biggest problems with ‘Devil in Ohio’ is the fact that we don’t have a devil-like villain. Since it’s a cult-based story, there is a head that leads the group, but he doesn’t manage to strike any kind of impact on the viewer. Daria Polatin does weave in an entire back-story to the cult’s origins, their beliefs and how they operate on fear, but despite all the background, when the cult members are on screen, they create close to zero fear in the show. And while there is a little twist at the end, it’s underwhelming and too fleeting to count as a conclusive climax for a thriller.
It’s a 6/10 from me.
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