Content of the material
- Wild, Wild Country, 2017
- 6. Deprogrammed
- My Scientology Movie
- 8. The Source Family (2012) Directors: Marie Demopoulos Jodie Willie
- 6. Sons of Perdition (2010) Directors: Tyler Measom Jennilyn Merten
- The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
- Inside a Cult: Messiah on Trial
- Deprogrammed, 2016
- Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult
- Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
- The Source Family
- 1. Children of God
Wild, Wild Country, 2017
Nothing in this Oscar-winning docuseries, executive produced by the Duplass brothers, is exactly what it seems. You’d be forgiven for watching only the first episode of Wild, Wild Country and assuming the whole show is about a sex-crazed hippie commune inspired by Eastern religions, but things get more complicated quickly.
This series is actually the story of two very unlike communities — the people of Rajneeshpuram and Wasco County, Oregon — as they rub up against each other on barren American land.
Sure, cult leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh is interesting, but his second-in-command takes center stage after a while. Indian-American-Swiss co-cultist Ma Anand Sheela proves to be a more formidable power in the cult over time, and she was instrumental to the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack. More so than any other series on the list, watching this will leave you shocked that you hadn’t heard this nutso story before.
Oftentimes when people think about cults, they don’t consider how difficult it can be for former cult members to overcome the brainwashing and manipulation they’ve endured. The 2015 documentary Deprogrammed follows Ted ‘Black Lightning’ Patrick’s fight against cults through his method known as reverse brainwashing. Over the years, he has inspired other people to join in o the deprogramming movement and he has successfully helped countless people unlearn what was taught to them in cults.
My Scientology Movie
In My Scientology Movie, Louis Theroux provides an AMAZING glimpse into Scientology with a really unique perspective.
Not surprisingly, Theroux is barred from speaking to Scientology’s inner ranks for this film. So he decides to create his own documentary of exactly what happens inside the cult…hiring actors and former cult members to help reconstruct events.
High ranking ex-member Marty Rathbun plays a particularly important role in the documentary. His in-depth knowledge of the bizarre inner workings of the cult is invaluable. He recounts things like how they punish members, secret communication, and the tactics they use to harass ex-members.
Even if you think you know all there is to know about scientology, you will still get a lot out of this film. It’s informative AND really entertaining.
Of all the cult documentaries on Netflix, this is definitely one of the best! Add it to your queue.
8. The Source Family (2012) Directors: Marie Demopoulos Jodie Willie
It is generally alluded that the hippie movement ended with the Manson family murders in August 1969. But some of the impressionable young hippies of early 1970s followed the megalomaniac and miracle-performing guru, Father Yod. Born James Edward Baker, Father Yod (served in the Marine Corps during World War II) armed himself with the knowledge of esoteric spiritual teachings and was a follower of Yogi Bhajan, an American-Sikh spiritual leader. By late 1960s, Baker opened Source restaurant in Los Angeles, which served organic vegetarian food (celebrities like John Lennon, Brando were said to be the restaurant’s regulars). Then he metamorphosed into a cult leader, promising a life of pleasure, wisdom, and love.
Maria Demopoulos and Jodie Willie’s The Source Family documents the ‘family’ unit of Yod by relying on archival footage and interviewing ex-members. The Source Family wasn’t the source of any tragic killings or suicide, and for the large part, the documentary portrays Yod as a strange, but not a sinister person. Although Marie and Jodie touch little about the emotional trauma and sexual abuse caused by Yod, there have been numerous painful accounts of the leader’s authoritarian attitude, especially towards women. Although the cult dissipated after the death of Yod (in 1975), his psychological and physical abuse of power has scarred his victims for life.
6. Sons of Perdition (2010) Directors: Tyler Measom Jennilyn Merten
If Prophet’s Prey takes a detailed look at the horror unleashed by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs on his sequestered members, Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten’s Sons of Perdition deals with the post-cult lives of three teenagers (Sam, Joe, and Bruce) who were exiled from the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints). These three boys have no access to their families and no financial support whatsoever. Measom and Merten’s approach isn’t interview-driven, but (unobtrusively) observes the boys as they attempt to fit in with the outside world.
All the three have previously had no contact with the outside world and even the concept of recreation – books (apart from scriptures), TV, and radio — is new to them. Some of the female exiles explain why the boys are let out easily whereas the young women of FLDS are guarded fiercely (which is discussed in detail in Sam Brower’s book and Amy Berg’s documentary). Overall, Sons of Perdition offers a strong and different perspective to comprehend the abusive power of FLDS.
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
The main cultural context we have for the Galapagos islands is Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galapagos, which is remarkably similar to the subject of this documentary. A small community forms on the island chain and explores their humanity. In Vonnegut’s case, it was because of an apocalypse. In this documentary’s case, it was a quest to start over in an idyllic setting. Obviously, because humans usually can’t keep themselves from stirring the pot, things start to go wrong, which is exactly what the documentary explores. There was a string of disappearances in the community, which you wouldn’t think would be possible on a small island community, but life finds a way. Netflix
Inside a Cult: Messiah on Trial
What’s the only thing better than a good cult documentary?
A cult documentary sequel!
That’s exactly what Inside a Cult: Messiah on Trial is – a follow-up to The End of the World Cult (so watch that one first!).
The documentary tracks the fallout of crimes Michael Travesser admitted to in the first documentary. This includes the trial and sentencing, something you rarely get to see in the world of cults.
In addition to footage of proceedings, you meet former members of the cult that have come to see their one-time Messiah finally pay for his crimes.
If you were captivated by The End of the World Cult, then you will love this follow-up. Add it to the queue!
Once you exit a cult, how do you regain your independence and sense of self? For many people, this process of returning to life outside a cult is called “deprogramming”, and this 2016 documentary tells the story of several people who needed to be removed from cults.
Cults encourage their members to drop out of society completely, to cut off ties with loved ones and change their personality traits and habits. Many cults involve drug use, but even the ones that don’t, according to Deprogrammed use a type of psychological intoxication, born from a charismatic leader and a cult’s developing hive mind.
Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult
India Oxenberg, daughter of Dynasty alum Catherine Oxenberg, starred in this 2020 Starz docuseries as she detailed her escape from NXIVM, the “self-help” organization that led to a 120-year prison sentence for leader Keith Raniere and a three-year sentence for Smallville alum Allison Mack.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
For this 2015 HBO documentary, now on HBO Max, Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney profiled eight former Church of Scientology devotees—including, notably, Crash director Paul Haggis—as they “describe the systematic history of abuse and betrayal by Church officials,” says the network.
The Source Family
Maybe this says a lot more about us than anything else, but we’d have a really hard time trusting someone named Father Yod. That said, he and his cult fit perfectly into what we imagine of 1970s L.A. There was crazy clothing, health food, rock n roll, and hot ladies, which all fit with the era. But then, so does their conflict with the local authorities. The documentary uses archival footage and interviews with former band members to flesh out what they experienced and piece together their lifestyle. Amazon Prime
1. Children of God
The 1994 documentary Children of God may be the oldest one on our list, but it’s also the best. The film centers around Sylvia Padilla and her family, all of whom were members of a religious cult called The Family International. Children of God is raw and it served as the first time many people really got to see the realities of life in a cult.