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Bloor Cinema Release: Holy Hell

May 20, 2016

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Holy HellAfter graduating from film school in 1985, Will Allen joined the Bhuddafield cult, an experience that took up over two decades of his life, as he made short films for the cult and became their documentarian.

Starting in California, Bhuddafield was a secret community of young spiritualists who were all looking for answers in their lives, and became convinced they had found them in a narcissistic leader named Michel.  A failed actor and trained hypnotist who wore speedos and was obsessed with body image, Michel brainwashed them into becoming his personal servants, ordering them all to remain celibate and convincing them they were doing service for a higher power.

With candid footage of the cult in its early days, and revealing interviews with ex-members who escaped after having years of their lives consumed, Will Allen explores how they were all sucked in.  The early scenes show the supposedly peaceful and free-loving environment that made many of them decide to join and stick with it in the first place, images that are starkly contrasted as the stories become increasingly messed up.  Through this, Holy Hell provides a compelling look at the disturbing mentality behind cult leaders, and how so many people can become brainwashed into following them.

Although the film lacks some of the psychological insight that might have come if it had been assembled by an outside source who isn’t so close to the material, Holy Hell provides a fascinating and disturbing glimpse inside cult life.  This is a compelling and thought provoking documentary that illustrates both the initial appeal of why someone might want to join a cult, and the terrifying process of trying to escape once the illusion is pulled back and it all starts going to hell.  It’s often chilling to watch.

Holy Hell is now playing in limited release at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.  Tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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