Holy Hell review – first-person footage blurs line between community and cult

Films unrivaled access takes us inside the inner workings of a cult as never before to reveal a group thats far more complex than you might expect

Part of becoming an adult means making a poor option here and there. For the luck ones, a pot of black coffee and a jog can sweat these out the morning after. For others there are lingering consequences. When Will Allen started hanging out with a group of friendly and fit young people in California, he found a group of likeminded, artistic and philosophical peers looking for answers to big questions. He emerged 22 years later questioning his option to devote his time, finances and energy to the groups leader. Allen wasnt the first to fall under the spell of a cult , nor will he be the last, but his position as in-house videographer may make him the only one with copious footage detailing what induces such groups tick.

The first-person nature of Holy Hell is both a bles and a curse. The source material is utterly fascinating in that major-collision-on-the-highway way of things, but Allen takes this footage and, mixed with talking head interviews from other former members, attempts to tease out a three-act tale with shocking twists. The outcome is an uneven mixture of news program, suspense narrative and toward the end, somewhat saccharine self-help exercising.

As a young homosexual man, ostracized by his parents in the mid 80 s, Allen first encounters the Buddhafield group after his sister fell in with them. Its a fun, upbeat gang. They hang out in lakes and laugh and embracing and all look terrific in bathing suits. Allen, who built 8mm remakings of Jaws and Wonder Woman as a kid, starts recording video. As he expends more period with them, his service aims up being something akin to a Minister of Propaganda. That in addition to being one of many masseurs to the Teacher and eventually he alleges a victim of sexual abuse.

The leader who is first called Michel, then Andreas is a curious figure of unknown origin and indiscernible accent.( Think Ricardo Montalbn traversed with Peter Sellers in The Party, but wearing speedos .) His path to enlightenment is one that involves physical fitness, ballet and clean living. No drugs are let, other than the psychedelic high that comes from hypnosis or shakti conferences. On special occasions he presents The Knowing, which is basically a private satellite link-up with God. Former adherents still describe this encounter with reverence an indescribable and gratifying experience that altered their perception and sense of self.

Michel/ Andreas is a commanding and striking figure. An ex-actor( he had a bit part in Rosemarys Baby) and a former lesbian porn starring, his demeanor is simultaneously distant and friendly. He tells you just enough about his master plan to keep you wanting more. Its this enigmatic quality, plus being surrounded by scores of other devoted disciples, that generate the brainwashing cult-of-personality. We all tell oh, this would never happen to me, and yet all the Buddhafield survivors seem like altogether sharp, reasonable people today.

The group moves from California to Austin, Texas in the early 90 s, funded entirely by donations from members. Many work, but when they are done with their day undertaking they return to the group to do another 40 hours a week of service. Service eventually entails designing and constructing an elaborated amphitheater. One of the kookier tale phases describes how Andreas( as he is called in the Texas years) would devise and practice elaborate ballets for a year, different groups would perform it one time only for themselves, and then start the process again.

After the events at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993, paranoia begins to poison Andreass teaches. In a brilliant strategy, he convinces his adherents that people from the outside might accuse them of is available on a cult which, obviously, in the farthest thing from the truth. Their group, he says, isnt a cult, but the true path to procuring peace and harmony or whatever it is.( His tenet is a vague hodgepodge of many religions, plus the unique spin of always garmenting in swimwear and generate sure a handsome young man carries lawn furniture so hes got a place to sit .)

In time the Big Lie is unraveled when an unnamed member leaves the group. Despite the decree of sexual abstinence, he accuses Andreas of sexually abusing him during their private hypnosis sessions. Turns out most of “the mens” of the working group, both lesbians and straight( and including Allen ), have induced similar allegations.

Whats most remarkable about Holy Hell apart from the fact that Andreas has resurfaced in Hawaii with new adherents is the ambivalence of some of the survivors. Many dont entirely regret their decades of service. For a few good years they experienced the bliss that can only come from is available on the presence of the divine. Some reflect on the halcyon years as the only true household they had.

This speaks to a larger and more troubling truth. Intense subcultures, even benign or helpful ones, sometimes cause a rift with people and their families, or their general well-being. Holy Hell employs this deception to its advantage. At first the Buddhafield seems really great, and as you watch you think Hey, this isnt so bad! After the truth is uncovered you are able to think back on how creepy it all was. Many people have a community they belong to that, to foreigners, may seem obtrusive be it a house of prayer with a historical legacy, a self-help group in the AA mold or a never-ending tour with a band like the Grateful Dead. Holy Hell is a useful tool to show how people within their home communities may be unable to recognize or reconcile when their subculture turns dark.

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