When someone says the word “documentary,” you don’t think binge-worthy, nail-biting suspense, vehement emotion, or surrealistic atmospheres, but that’s exactly what they can have. From “The Keepers” to “The Confession Tapes,” Netflix has revolutionized what it means to be a documentary in the modern world, that it can surmount to something more than the boring, fact-spitting film or TV show people think they are.
At first glance, “The Keepers” is nothing more than a real-life mystery driven by the murder of a school teacher. There’s a perplexing aspect to the story, though, as the show dives deeper into the sexual conspiracies surrounding Archbishop Keough High School and the priest residing there, Joseph Maskell.
A twisted reality to contemplate is revealed of how the perfect illusion fathomed by this prominent Catholic high school can be wrought into a living hell at the hands of a revered social figure in the religious world. Blood-curdling, to say the least, “The Keepers” exudes Shakespeare in the sense that things aren’t always as they appear, but on an extremely frightening scale.
In fact, you could say that “The Keepers” is a classic tragedy. The TV show focuses on a ploy conceived by the overwhelming authority priests wield that schoolgirls fall victim to due to their naivete and the allure of false hope, this necessity to speciously believe that anything but rape or other traumatizing, non-consensual acts are happening a mere feet away from students who are learning how to formulate rhetorical essays and wrap their heads around electron configuration.
Except there’s one distinguishing feature that sets “The Keepers” apart from any sob story of the Elizabethan era, and that’s the lack of closure. Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two of Cathy’s former students, don’t get to witness justice being served to Cathy’s murderer but rather mourn the idea that this harbinger of doom is free to wreak havoc on anyone else, exempt from punishment.
“The Keepers,” therefore, illuminates how the light doesn’t always shine on those with good intentions. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but those who don’t watch this life-changing documentary might be deceived by the idea where the morally-righteous always prevail.
Then there’s one of Netflix’s most recent documentary, “The Confession Tapes.” Unlike “The Keepers,” the series follows multiple cases through its first seven-episode season, but both documentaries illustrate how the justice system in the United States of America, while renown and praised, is sometimes less than ideal.
All the cases discussed in “The Confession Tapes” possess similar characteristics– a painstaking interrogation over an extensive period of time, a lack of/discrepancy in physical evidence, and manipulative means of extracting confessions through blunt coercion or hypothetical situations– all carried out by some of America’s finest civil workers.
However, the purpose of the series isn’t to criticize police officers who might have put pressure on suspects to self-incriminate themselves; “The Confession Tapes” poses a question that many jurors are oblivious to: Would you confess to a crime you didn’t commit?
The answer from most people would be no, but “The Confession Tapes” offers a different perspective to the question most people don’t take into account, which is the fact that under the perfect circumstances, almost anything is possible. With the proper training, you can save a life, and, likewise, with the right amount of pressure and implanted self-doubt, yes. You will confess to a crime you didn’t commit.
The documentaries are an ode to the fortitude, or lack thereof, present within the human race. People have natural weakness others choose to feed on. It’s sadistic, but it’s life. And that taboo world is something that director Ryan White of “The Keepers” and creator Kelly Loudenberg of “The Confession Tapes” aren’t afraid to explore.
So what does it mean to be a documentary in 2017?
It means telling a surreal story, unafraid of the bitter truth that will come out.