The unedited version of the CNN documentary Holy Hell is on Netflix and available for you to watch. Directed by Will Allen, the film chronicles several members’ journeys from the time they joined the Buddhafield cult until their departure. Will Allen was in the Buddhafield cult for 23 years, and served as the cult’s unofficial videographer. Led by a mysterious guru named Michel, Holy Hell reveals how innocent spiritual seekers can be ensnared by dangerous teachings. Holy Hell takes viewers on a riveting ride, as the type of manipulation and tactics cult leaders use to control followers is revealed. The movie also delivers a brutal look at the devastation left as followers choose to leave. CNN debuted Holy Hell on Sept. 1. It drew 1.03 million viewers and topped its time slot, according to Deadline.
— Ricky Davila (@TheRickyDavila) September 6, 2016
Former members featured in Holy Hell include actors David Christopher, Phillipe Coquet and Dimitrius Pulido. Will Allen’s sisters Amy and Cristala Allen share their stories of life in the cult and their mother describes the experience of her three children leaving home and becoming cult members. Other members who present their stories are Jennifer Baca, Alessandra Burenin, Vera Cheiffo, Radhia Gleis, Julian Goldstein, Greg Gorey, Murti Hower, Chris Johnston and Danielle Lefemine. Each tells his or her personal account of how they became involved in the group and offered their critiques on the group’s leader Michel Gomez. Those who experienced abuse in the group shared harrowing stories.
The Buddhafield cult began in West Hollywood in the ’80s before moving to Austin, Texas, and then Hawaii, where the group remains today. Michel Gomez is a former actor who appeared briefly in Rosemary’s Baby. He was born Jaime Gomez and has used multiple aliases while leading the cult, such as Michel Rostand, Andreas and is currently known as Reyji. Gomez presented himself as a divine master and teacher to his disciples. While many of the members didn’t live in a communal environment, Gomez continued to control nearly every aspect of their lives.
— Eleanor Roth (@EleanorRoth8) September 2, 2016
As you watch the members’ stories unfold, you begin to ask yourself questions such as what is a cult, what are the signs of a cult and how do you know if the group you are in is a cult? The definition for cult is broad and those of varying faiths often have different interpretations. While most members easily identify the Buddhafield as a cult, they admit they didn’t see the truth for decades. Even though Michel allegedly used abusive and subversive practices, they overlooked the negative aspects and focused on the positive. So what exactly is a cult? When should people leave their place of worship because it has become too negative? How do people know if they are in a cult?
The simple answer is freedom. Do you have the freedom to state your questions, concerns or complaints? Can you criticize the group freely? Will critiques cause insightful dialogue on ways to change or improve the group or will it cause you to be ostracized? Cult leaders are above reproach and Michel was no exception. He did not allow his followers to question him and convinced them his connection to God was so divine, to leave the group meant to be out of God’s will. The Buddhafield disciples didn’t have freedom to question Michel’s teachings or disagree with them. Michel demanded complete submission and loyalty from his followers, even when he broke the established rules. There are many signs and symptoms a group is a cult or spiritually oppressive, dangerous or manipulative. For many, however, the inability to question the group’s teachings, belief system or leader is a sign you are in a cult. If you cannot question a group or the leader without facing reprimand and consequences, you are not in a spiritually healthy environment.
Holy Hell may be the first film produced by former members that provides a comprehensive look at life in a cult and illustrates how difficult it can be to break free from those strongholds. While there is great admiration for those who were able to leave the group and reclaim their lives, the fact remains that Buddhafield continues in Hawaii with the same leader and allegedly the same practices.
The Hollywood Reporter released a list of possible Oscar contenders and listed Holy Hellfor best documentary. You may watch Holy Hell at your leisure on Netflix. It is also available on CNN mobile devices. See the official trailer below.
[Image via Sakkmesterke/Shutterstock]