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‘The Keepers’ Isn’t the New ‘Making a Murderer’ — It’s Better

Where to Stream

The Keepers

In this true-crime loving era of TV, there’s something immediately compelling about Netflix’s latest docu-series, The Keepers. The reality that the seven-part series ends with is, in a word, horrifying. However, The Keepers starts from as pure of a place that an examination of a murder can — two former students who just want to know what happened to their beloved teacher. As a result, the series is a deeply human documentary that becomes increasingly darker and more disturbing with every turn.

Sister Catherine “Cathy” Anne Cesnik was 26 years old when she disappeared in Baltimore, Md. The nun was a beloved member of her church as well as a teacher at Archbishop Keough High School. In November of 1969, she disappeared, even though she was seen by many of her friends the same night she disappeared. Her body wasn’t found until months later when it was reported she had suffered blunt force trauma to the head. There are several other disturbing elements to this case such as the revelation that it was one of Cesnik’s students who found her body. The Keepers attempts to uncover what led to and who is responsible for this grisly murder, but it does so while almost completely reliant upon on-the-ground reporting from civilians.

Whereas most true crime documentaries are filled with interviews and footage from well-versed police officers, detectives, and lawyers, there’s an unpolished scrappiness to The Keepers’ first episodes. We’re introduced to the docu-series’ central crime by Tom Nugent, an elderly journalist who may be one of the most well-versed authorities on the case. Nugent is responsible for writing a 6,000 word outline of the murder, entitled “Who Killed Sister Cathy?” Despite Nugent’s hard work on the piece he wrote years ago and his evident pride in the story, he has to search through numerous dusty boxes in his attic before finding the printed article. It’s a perfect metaphor for this case — something that is huge and deeply disturbing but has been mysteriously covered up by time.

Sister Cathy’s story is then taken up by Gemma Hoskin and Abbie Schuab, two former students of the beloved nun who have no connections to law enforcement, legal counseling, or journalism. It’s through Hoskin and Schuab that The Keepers’ endearing scrappiness shines through. This is a true crime story told by normal people who just want some clarity as they sort through incomplete police accounts, dropped leads, and misplaced evidence. The Keepers is very much a docu-series framed around true crime sleuths, and in this way, it’s a perfect fit for a streaming service known for its passionate and internet-savvy audience. It’s not hard to imagine that streaming fans on Reddit and Twitter will soon be taking up this investigative cause.

However, it’s The Keepers initial status as an underdog that makes the horrors this docu-series reveals all the more shocking. For viewers who are coming to Sister Cesnik’s case without much background information, it’s a disservice to unveil the many sharp twists this riveting documentary presents within its seven hours. Just know that nothing is as it appears in the world of late ‘70s Catholicism and even the most disturbing crimes can get much, much worse.

Courtesy of Netflix

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Before diving in, viewers should know that The Keepers does start a bit slow. The series’ first episode wanders a bit, exploring more of who Sister Cesnik was as a person rather than explaining the murder, but that focus changes abruptly in its second episode. The Keepers becomes a rollercoaster of gut-wrenching, real-life horrors by its last episode, but it takes a second to establish itself. Also, it should be noted that this is a series you would benefit from watching with the captions on. There are a few characters, especially in later episodes, who are remarkably difficult to understand. But these are small criticisms for this harrowing look into the Catholic church’s alleged cover-ups.

The Keepers will undoubtedly be compared to Netflix’s other crime docu-series, Making a Murderer, but it’s hard to quantify the two. Whereas Making a Murderer dove into the minute inconsistencies of one confusing case that may have led to two men being falsely imprisoned, The Keepers proposes a massive, religion wide cover up. It’s a claim that sounds insane until you hear from the staggering amount of victims and witnesses director Ryan White presents. There’s an eye-widening and oppressive element to The Keepers’ claims that Making a Murderer lacks. In Making a Murderer, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos presented two men who may have become the fall men for an possibly incompetent police force. The Keepers, much like Spotlight, presents an entire community, supported by claims of morality and love, that has been actively covering up serious crimes.

Netflix’s latest docu-series is as unmistakably sinister as it is difficult to look away from.

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