'The Devil Next Door' relates the 1980s trial of an Ohio grandfather (originally from Ukraine) in Israel. John Demjanjuk was accused of being Ivan the Terrible, an infamous Nazi death camp guard who committed terrible atrocities.
'The Devil Next Door' is the latest true crime drama series from Netflix; its other forays in the genre including 'The Keepers', 'The Disappearance of Madeleine McCann', and 'Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes'. There was also of course arguably the pinnacle example for Netflix, 'Making a Murderer'. And in fact initially the series recalls the latter in putting you initially on side with the accused. But then how it concludes is quite the opposite.
We learn details of the crimes of Ivan the Terrible from the outset. He committed horrific crimes, torturing victims in their final moments, and was particularly brutal to women and children. It's impossible to not be moved by the cruelty and tragedy of these crimes of the Holocaust - episode one ends with a victim of the epoch telling the heart-breaking story of how he lost his daughter during the extermination.
'The Devil Next Door' moves quickly in its editing and pacing, effectively divulging how Demjanjuk's trial became a media frenzy and the effects it had on his family. The case was so much more than a trial of one man's guilt. For Jewish people watching, it was a reckoning with the past and opportunity for justice and revenge. The Holocaust victims' testimonials make for an emotional and prominent element of the trial; however the doc also readily acknowledges that due to their age and nature of their PTSD, the accounts aren't always reliable. Then there's Demjanjak's deadpan face as he hears their stories. Is he so coolly detached from humanity, or has he been advised that showing emotion would imply guilt?
It's a complex case and one feels pathos for all involved. Interestingly the lawyers and other individuals on both sides of the case are as firm in their beliefs and as sharp and convincing as the other. Yoram Sheftel, the Israeli defense attorney, makes for the most fascinating interview subject, being quite a cocky, eccentric individual. But to say he makes a more convincing argument than Israeli state prosecutor Eli Gabay would be incorrect. That's worth praising on the part of the documentarians, that they give both sides screen time and don't go down on one side.
At five episodes long, 'The Devil Next Door' doesn't make the same mistake as other Netflix true crime series do; it doesn't overstay its welcome. It also does well to time its twists at the end of each episode so you'll easily wind up binging it in one sitting. The emotion of the case - the sorrow, the frustration, the rage - is tangible and stays with you long afterwards. Notably the ending opens up a whole other perspective on the events that you never even thought of. It relates to the question of exactly what Ivan Demjanjuk is guilty of - and its answer is just why the conclusion could be more frightening than 'The Ted Bundy Tapes'.
'The Devil Next Door' is streaming on Netflix now.