the 6 best documentaries about cults to watch on netflix
What to binge when you've finished 'Wild Wild Country'.
Still via Youtube
Seemingly everyone we know is obsessed with Netflix’s Wild Wild Country, the six-part documentary about the Rajneeshee cult in Oregon. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh relocated his followers there in the 80s in search of enlightenment and utopia, but in episode one we’re already being told by the FBI that the move resulted in the largest poisoning case in the USA (amongst other truly awful things). Not that we’ve ever heard of cult members skipping off into the sunset, but seriously, why can’t cults ever have a happy ending? Why does it have to end in Kool-Aid and misery? We don’t have the answers, despite our addiction to brainwashing-themed programming, but maybe the following docs do. From Scientology to salvation in Jesus Christ, from Kool-Aid to killer abs, we've seemingly watched every documentary on the subject — and if they hadn't been so fascinatingly depressing, maybe we'd be ready to start our own. Here are the best documentaries on Netflix to watch if you’re cult obsessed.
Wild Wild Country
Perhaps the best, and the one to drop into conversation with your friends if you want to inspire frothing at the mouth. Just like everything else, cults are a reflection of their times, and the story of the primary color clad Rajneeshees is no different. Established on 64,000 acres of land in rural Oregon in the 80s, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh wanted to build a utopian community. What he didn’t foresee, obviously, was the descent into moral panic, poisoning, and immigration fraud, culminating in both the locals and the Rajneeshees forming militias. So wild you’ll just have to watch it to understand what we’re talking about.
My Scientology Movie
Scientology seems like a great place to start in your cult film (sorry) marathon, being perhaps the most well-publicized and well-funded secret society of modern times. Louis Theroux’s documentary is more personal than HBO’s exceptional Going Clear, but that’s not on Netflix. And besides, it’s worth it just to see Theroux’s hysterically awkward interviews with current members, including actress Paz de la Huerta, who shows up in her underwear. Theroux has a long history of interviewing the possibly insane, and watching him work is a pleasure.
Buddhafield were fantastically 80s, frolicking in Hawaii’s water in tight, neon swimwear. What sets this documentary apart, however, is the original footage in features shot by Will Allen, a member of the cult for two decades. This, along with interviews with former acolytes documents their slow descent into madness, makes it a truly fascinating chronicle of cult life. Incredibly, the leader they knew as “Andreas” still has a following in Hawaii, despite allegations of sexual abuse.
“There are two kinds of people in the world — people who love Jesus and people who don’t,” says one of the mothers in Jesus Camp, about why she’s chosen to enroll her children in a program that turns them into God’s soldiers. Jesus Camp is a fascinating look into the psychology of Evangelicals in the USA, and how their warlike mindset has swayed the nation’s politics in their direction.
Jonestown: Paradise Lost
1978’s Jonestown massacre was one of the first times that cults entered the public imagination, after 909 extreme Marxist followers of Jim Jones died in Guyana after drinking Kool-Aid laced with poison. The dramatic reenactments in this documentary are actually quite good, ramping up the tension until the inevitable demise of the People’s Temple members. Incredibly, Jones’s son Stephen was away at the time and thus survived — he and other survivors stories serve as grim testimony to what was the biggest single loss of American life pre-9/11.
What does it take to get someone to leave a cult? Ted ‘Black Lightning’ Patrick started an anti-cult crusade in the 1970s, at times snatching cult members so they could be forcibly mentally reprogrammed, with the help of friends and family, into non-cultists. This doc begs the question as to how or not Patrick’s large underground network followers became their own kind of cult.