Movies: Holy Hell

In 1985, Will Allen joined the Buddhafield, a religious group centered around a guru named Michel. In 2007, as things devolved and bad things happened, he and many others left. But Allen had been the de facto filmmaker for the group, too, and so has a lot of archival footage with which to create this documentary and spread the word of Michel's evildoings.

You might say, "Oh, just another cult film." But Allen has access to other members who left the group, and it gives wonderful perspective on what drew them in and kept them there. It's no secret that people like Michel prey on the broken and abused, people who are looking for love and a place to belong. It's a real testament that the survivors—because that's more or less what they are—do have fond memories of their "brothers and sisters" and the family the Buddhafield gave them at a time when they each needed just such a thing. And the documentary ends with wonderful updates on how those who left went on with their lives, where they ended up and what they're currently doing.

I wouldn't call it engrossing, because it wasn't entirely. But it accurately maps the insidious nature of such cult leaders, and also that trajectory from being a leader to being a narcissistic nutjob. Michel only allowed very attractive people into the Buddhafield, but he did not allow sex. He was obsessed with his own looks and with putting on ballet performances. He was also paranoid that the government would come after him. I won't ruin it for you by telling you how it all fell apart, but I will say it's disturbing that this man still has followers in Hawaii.

Holy Hell premiered at Sundance this past January, saw limited release in May, and then aired on CNN. You can find it on Netflix.

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