By Gregory Crofton
You may think you’ve seen a documentary that reveals what it’s like inside a cult, but you’ve never seen one like this. It was made from the inside out.
Its director, William Francesco Allen, was once the official videographer of this cult — The Buddha Field — and a personal assistant to its “Teacher.” The “Teacher,” also known as Michel, kept very tan, often wore a thong bathing suit, and was a skilled ballet dancer.
Allen, who graduated from film school just prior to joining the cult, unwinds the story at just the right clip, exposing the mechanisms used by The Teacher to spiritually feed his followers. But the most powerful moments are the painfully honest interviews Allen conducts with his fellow ex-cult members. They bare their souls in a way they only would to another cult member.
The actor Jared Leto was so moved by the film after seeing it at the Sundance Film Festival he signed on as an executive producer. “‘Holy Hell’ is relentless, haunting and unforgettable,” Leto said, as reported by Variety. “This unflinching documentary exposé takes us on a beautiful and bizarre journey in search of faith, love and family, but ends up showing us how the business of spirituality, power and corruption are often religion’s ménage à trois.”
Some professionals involved with documentary film call for filmmakers to push the boundaries of the genre out past fact-based journalism to get at greater truths. HOLY HELL, in my opinion, pushes it in the right direction by coiling its unique material in a way that snaps you out of The Teacher’s trance at exactly the right time. This movie will blow you away.
Check out the trailer below. I was able to watch the film as part of the Nashville Film Festival.