Sundance Recap: “Holy Hell”

LOUISA:    2.5 STARS       MATT:    2.5 STARS


The unprecedented access to the inner workings of a cult is the biggest strength of this documentary, but even all of that behind the scenes footage couldn’t save “Holy Hell” for me.

Maybe it’s because director Will Allen was a member of the cult himself and couldn’t distance himself from the subject, but I felt like there were so many missed opportunities to examine some deeper issues about the psyche of cults and religion. It’s hard for me to understand how people can be so coerced into following some self-proclaimed guru and even more shocking that some members were enduring such horrible sexual and mental abuse but nobody cried wolf.

The film’s big finale, centering around the eventual disbanding of the cult and a subsequent confrontation of a former member and the leader in Hawaii, is deeply unsatisfying.

This is a mildly interesting documentary that sadly fizzles out all too quickly.


A man spends 22 years filming his own life and personal experiences in a cult named “Buddhafield,” led by a mysterious, charismatic man known only as Michel. In “Holy Hell,” director Will Allen gives us a uniquely personal look into the inner workings of a cult, based on the video he shot for the group while he was a part of it.

Although unique both in its level of access and in its deeply personal connection to the filmmaker, “Holy Hell” is not a particularly well-made documentary. Many questions remain unanswered. The movie fails to shed any real insight into the whys and hows of a cult: what, specifically, attracts people to the group and why do they stay — particularly after the sordid and scandalous details of its leader’s exploitation of the members become public? Why do adults allow themselves to be exploited? What is it in human nature that draws people to groups like this one and why do they refuse to leave even when they know something is very, very wrong? Because it failed to provide any real level of understanding about the answers to the questions, I give it two and a half stars.


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