Review: The Keepers (Netflix series)


For true-crime aficionados seeking their next fix, look no further than Netflix’s new docuseries, “The Keepers.” It has compelling qualities akin to “The Jinx” (HBO) and “Making a Murderer” (also Netflix) that may capture viewership. By the second episode, however, “The Keepers” asserts itself with its penetrative firsthand accounts and themes that spread deeper and wider than either of the aforementioned series. At first, “The Keepers” details the disappearance of Sister Cathy Cesnik in November of 1969, followed by the discovery of her body several months later. The docuseries’ “anchors” are Abbie and Gemma, former students at Keough, the Baltimore Catholic girls’ school at which Sister Cathy was a teaching nun. Now in their sixties, these women have become armchair detectives, determined to find out who killed Sister Cathy. Attempting to revive a cold case nearly half a century old is challenging under “normal” circumstances, but the clandestine stonewalling from the Archdiocese of Baltimore along with law enforcement’s indifference, makes it nearly impossible to get answers to a tangled web of crimes, allegations, and cover-ups.

With each episode, the narrative widens—measuredly revealing more voices, more secrets, and more lies. Layers upon layers of secrets and recalled memories intertwine with one another, compounding the myriad intricate tragedies that continued to impact the lives of victims many decades after the incidents occurred. The systemic corruption of the Catholic Church—namely the Archdiocese of Baltimore—remains at the core of the series (the Catholic League has declared the documentary “scurrilous”). In the 1990s, dozens of women, including “Jane Doe” (Jean Hargadon Wehner) brought forth a litany of allegations of heinous abuse at the hands of the Chaplain at Keough, Father Joseph Maskell. The Archdiocese of Baltimore continues to deny prior knowledge of abuse allegations, even though they had been made decades earlier—even blaming victims for not coming forward sooner.

I want to stay away from explicit spoilers, since part of the viewing experience of “The Keepers” is absorbing the revelations as they occur over the space of seven roughly hour-long episodes. “The Keepers” is about more than just Father Maskell and the murder of a young nun. So many specters and suspicious characters take shape as Abbie, Gemma, and the filmmakers persistently try to chip away at fraying evidence and doggedly chase after justice for Sister Cathy.

The cinematography is breathtaking, and a haunting piano-heavy intro (composed by Blake Neely) helps to set the tone for the series, shifting from bleak landscapes to photographs of the faces involved in the story. Although compulsively watchable, “The Keepers” is dark, there is no way around that. It does, however, offer rare glimmers of hope and humor, and the tenacity of Abbie and Gemma is inspiring. Most moving of all is the collective courage of the featured victims to share their harrowing experience. In doing so, together they crack open a wall of darkness so that some light can at last shine through.

Other perspectives: The A.V. Club | Variety | The New York Times


One thought on “Review: The Keepers (Netflix series)

  1. Oh boy, this was the best thing I’ve seen in a long, long time, and also the most horrific. I was just in awe, and in shock as the series progressed. I love the way it was told, and that they really gave everyone enough time to tell their story. I agree with you about the intro, it is so eerie and really sets the tone. Definitely one of the best and most interesting, not to mention eye-opening things I’ve watched on Netflix thus far. I hope justice is served at some point. Those victims deserve it. Great piece!

    Would you be interested in sharing your work on Movie Pilot? I’d like to invite you to join the platform, and I’d love to hear from you so I can to expand on that. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail, my contact details are on my “About” page. Hopefully talk soon!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s