The Devil on Trial (2023)

The Devil on Trial (2023)

A less than convincing demonic possession true crime documentary about a significant murder case in US history



United Kingdom
Arne Cheyenne Johnson, Tony Spera, Victor Serfaty
81 min


The devil (Netflix) should try harder next time.

What it's about

A documentary recounting of the first US court murder case where demonic possession was used as a defence.

The take

Just in time for Halloween, Netflix has shelled out for a new, high production value doc about demonic possession. It has all the right ingredients: a true story (that of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, also known as the "Devil Made Me Do It" case of 1981), some convincing re-enactments, the air of exclusivity (use of real archives), but it still feels like a let-down to the true horror buffs who'd tune in expecting something fresh. After all, Netflix has been in the game for a while and it's not a good look to settle for something as mediocre. For The Devil on Trial, it seems like the execs have just upped the budget on a regular cable-TV-haunted-house after hours special and then patted themselves on the back. Even the interviews featured are full of cliches, which strips down the horrifying potential of authenticity.

What stands out

The Devil on Trial not only features the sworn testimonies of the Glatzel family who were part of the case in the 80s, but it also shows actual photographs and plays audio recordings made by them during the supposed possession of their eight year old son, David. The film itself starts with David today, as he recounts how it all began in a style that seems far from performative: a rather good start. When we get to see the polaroids of these possession episodes, they emanate an eerie aura even now, not to mention the stylistic choice to slightly animate them so they look 3D-like on screen. Together with the recordings of the growls, swearing, and distress played over the authentic images, these archival materials make The Devil on Trial stand out way more than the cleverly directed scene reconstructions in between.


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