WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
In 2016 a spate of brutal and mysterious killings gripped the town of Krugersdorp. Is a serial killer behind these vicious attacks, and who will die next if the police don't catch them?
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
In a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, it's hard for a case to stand out in the public eye, but no one can argue that the infamous Krugersdorp murders were one of the most bizarre cases to ever hit the headlines in South Africa.
Between 2012 and 2016, a religious group called Electus per Deus killed 11 people for various reasons, most linked to a wild belief that it was their Christian duty to fight against the onslaught of Satanism. But at the heart of it is a narcissistic, greedy con artist who manipulated and destroyed people's lives for her benefit.
At the surface, this bizarre case already sounds reminiscent of the US's Manson murders, but Showmax's new series Devilsdorp dives even deeper into the madness to get at the story behind the courts. With a sensitive hand and carefully crafted visuals, it pulls back the curtain on who these murderers were, what motivated them and - more importantly - who their victims were and the people they left behind. From cops, to grieving relatives, to psychologists to journalists, the producers had access to almost everyone involved except the actual perpetrators, and their dedicated research into the intricate web of Cecilia Steyn should be applauded.
In just four episodes, they artfully weave a narrative with so many twists and turns that you just can't quite believe this is real life, and these are real people. I was sitting on the edge of the couch the whole way through, and if you never took too much interest in the story when it first hit the news, this documentary series will shock you to your core. At the centre of it all lies Cecilia Steyn, a woman that comes as close to pure evil as you can get, and if she didn't get her way, people would die but cleverly never at her hands. Her hold over people baffles the mind, but the series takes great lengths to explain why these people were so susceptible to her manipulation. In this case, truth really is stranger than fiction.
I do applaud the show for not glamourising the criminals as the narrative puts the victims' stories at the forefront while also humanising two of the killers - basically children who grew up in an insanely brutal environment. The testimonials are gut-wrenching and raw, and that emotional intensity rarely lets up.
At one point, though, I felt a bit weird about it, as these people's pain was put on show for the entertainment of others, and one of the reasons why I'm not a huge fan of true-crime doccies. In fiction, even if based on a true story, you can disassociate easier from any on-screen trauma, but in documentaries, the reality of it all can be overwhelming.
However, the Krugersdorp murders was such an exceptional case, even by South African standards, that it warrants this type of exposé to highlight the dangers of influential personalities, certain failings in our police procedures and how zealous religious fervour can turn deadly. If you go looking for the devil, you will always find him, and that theme runs throughout this series.
Outside of the gripping content, Devilsdorp is also a master class in building a narrative in documentaries, coupled with a high production value that might even exceed international standards. But most of all, I hope it can bring some closure to the families whose lives were forever changed (and not ruined, as one widow defiantly said) by the whims of Cecilia Steyn. Especially those who live in hiding, still fearful that her reach could still extend beyond prison.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: