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Devilsdorp - Homegrown Homicide


Showmax has released its first original true crime docuseries, and it's a complete mystery where they could possibly go from here. While there was some hesitancy in watching the series, as though the local doc might have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to meet the interests in true crime of Showmax's viewers, but no, this is a wild one. If the events of Devilsdorp were presented as fiction, they would come across as utterly contrived tripe. It is unbelievable that this could ever happen.

And on that note, it's near impossible to review Devilsdorp because it becomes most rewarding once a certain threshold of spoilers has been crossed and it's best not to be overly familiar with the case going in. Over and over again, things are not what they seem, as the narrative of the murders seems to shift from financially-motivated, to Satanic links, to church involvement, to cults, to cover-ups, fraud, betrayals, and so on. This review will stick to what can be gleaned from the trailers for the show, as well as what series director David Enright has seen fit to reveal to the press, and a few minor details that are worth mentioning but won't spoil the many twists-and-turns.

The show tracks the events of the ‘Satanic Murders' and later ‘Appointment Murders', collectively known as the Krugersdorp Killings, hopping back and forth in time to unfurl the details like an investigation in progress. As Enright put it; “What started as a group of devout Christians trying to help a former Satanist escape the satanic church ended in a murderous spree involving a killer mom, her two children, and a cult with more victims than members. It may all sound too far-fetched to be believed, except it really happened, just down the road from us.” It's astounding that these people thought they could get away with any of this, and that for so long, they did.

The typical sin for a true crime docuseries is that, knowing viewers will want to stay for the resolution of the case, or at least the latest twist, they are formatted to stretch the facts of the case thin, padding a story that could easily be told in two or three episodes out to a full ten. The first episodes will dive straight into the grisly killings and intriguing players, but later on, episodes will begin to be occupied with laborious non-sequiturs, tediously unusable testimonies and local gossip treated with equal weight to the real investigation, only to leave off on a cliffhanger for an actually interesting development right as the episode ends. Better click on the next one, it's getting good now! Watch time is valuable.

Devilsdorp is a brisk 4 episodes, absolutely packed end-to-end, to the point that the title sequence of each episode is only about 10 seconds long. It leaves few stones unturned, but cuts frivolous details out of the equation, resulting in a remarkable clarity of events and process for the examination. It's refreshing to see a series of this nature more focused on giving you the facts than on its own polish.

Devilsdorp Aerial View

That isn't to say that the production leaves something to be desired, on the contrary, Devilsdorp has rock solid fundamentals. It uses quality cameras, and so unlike some local content doesn't look distractingly cheap, backed by a solid score that ranges from ominous to curious, and other times melancholy, to add an element of well-judged and non-invasive atmosphere. Also present are the typical suggestive dramatic re-enactments to accompany the interviewee's testimonies, though they air on the side of evocative, never showing faces, murders, etc. Keeping these sorts of indiscreet touches to a minimum works in the show's favor, because Devilsdorp is at its worst on the rare occasions that it does try a flourish or two, attempting to freak the audience out with a spliced in image of creepy dolls, or a hulking effigy constructed for the show in an attempt to articulate what can only be assumed to be what the showrunner's felt was the ‘theme' of this story. But this is not a story; these attempts to play into the occult elements of the case are silly, and this sort of embellishment is even criticized once or twice by professionals in the show itself (tabloids at the time of course *loved* that they could chill their readers by focusing on the Satanism of it all).

The interviews themselves are the standout contribution of Devilsdorp, unbelievable source material notwithstanding. There are some truly revealing talks, and every account is thoroughly detailed and thoughtful. These events had a profound effect on the lives of every person on screen, and they've all had time to let their thoughts on the matter germinate into absorbing depositions. There are some peculiar individuals involved here, a few seem to enjoy spinning this yarn; one is a journalist who's oddly cavalier on the subject of the dead, excitable on the subject of her work, and incorrigible in her attachment to one of the killers. Another is an eccentric investigating officer who fancies himself as Krugersdorp's own Chuck Norris.

Devilsdorp Aerial View

The amount of cooperation from the parties involved is remarkable, families of the victims, outside specialists, prosecutors, psychologists, witness protection members, all providing very personal accounts, taking us through their train of thought, which inevitably leads to some speculation (as when witnesses recount actions they personally found suspicious). Krugersdorp is a community with a large gulf between the haves and the have nots. It is also, generally-speaking, a deeply religious community, which retains the weight of the Apartheid government's ‘fight against Satan' through battling the ‘inherent atheism of Communism'. This background informs the perspective of many of the locals, and so informs the tone and point-of-view of some sequences of the show, though within good time Devilsdorp reframes and questions itself, first tactfully, and then in one of those moments where the creators butt in with inserts like the effigy to make their point. Still, when dealing with its procedural elements, the show is mesmerizing and whether you find the beliefs or naïveté of many of the players ridiculous or not, being entrenched into the goings-on of this community is compelling. The only view left largely without interviews is that of the ringleader (which somehow makes them all the more unnerving).

Devilsdorp is recommended binge watching, for one because leaving a gap between episodes may give the impression of red herrings, which when viewed in a single sitting are shown for what they are: reflections of all elements at play, both in the case and in the beliefs of the involved parties. This is a complete submergence into how this nightmare came to be, and that means allowing justifications the time of day too. The other reason is that this becomes a heavy watch, and though its tough to look away, you'll be relieved once you've finished it and can move on. It is taxing to acknowledge that many of the perpetrators were perfectly normal members of the Krugersdorp community, who got involved with what became a series of grisly killings, armed only with good intentions.