When ‘Wild Wild Country‘ was first aired on Netflix, it generated quite a buzz among the cult movie lovers. The controversial documentary lured even those who abstain themselves from documentaries and prefer to stick to just cult movies. The documentary investigating the rise and fall of a spiritual cult based in Oregon of the ’80s. ‘The extraordinary success of ‘Wild Wild Country’ opened doors to a bandwagon of intriguing documentaries exploring the hidden secrets of controversial cults around the globe. For streaming platforms, it’s the time of the cults and for the viewers, its the time of binge-watching. So, here’s the list of really good cult documentaries on Netflix that are available to stream right now.
9. Wild, Wild Country (2018)
‘Wild Wild Country’ is one of the most controversial series on Netflix. Based on the Indian mystic Osho’s secretive spiritual commune in Oregon, the series explores the myth behind the orgasmic pleasure of spiritual awakening. The documentary also sheds light on the conflict between the followers of Osho and the local Oregon community, which eventually led to the first bio-terror attack in the history of the U.S.
When Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh moved from India to the U.S. and bought a ranch near the town of Antelope, nobody thought he was going to raise an entire city from scratch. Soon, the city was christened as Rajneeshpuram and opened its vast planes for his followers to live as a commune. The chief architect of the commune was Osho’s controversial and enigmatic attaché, Ma Anand Sheela. Her name was often associated with the notorious Rajneshee bio-terror attack in 1984. But when the local townsfolk develop friction with Osho people, the tensions eventually led to a series of bizarre events.
At the peak of a violent law and order situation, the state and federal intervened. A massive case of illegal wiretapping was reported. The documentary is a shocking viewing experience for those who are unaware of Osho’s mysticism. It uncovers tales of poison and paranoia and the man of massive spiritual charm. ‘Wild Wild Country’ becomes a political statement when it hints at the American tolerance for the separation of church and state, and how cunningly the Osho episode has been removed from the cultural history of the nation.
8. One of Us (2017)
Netflix has tasted the blood with cult documentaries and next in the line is ‘One of Us.’ The controversial series, which is directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, follows three people who left the impenetrable Brooklyn Hasidic community. Along with uncovering hidden truths about the Hasidic community, ‘One of Us’ also exposes the brutal methods employed by such groups to keep people in and the external world out.
The three witnesses of ‘One of Us’ include Etty, a mother of seven who broke the shackles of an abusive marriage to escape from the community. She fought a custody battle over her seven children with her former husband. Ari, the second character is a cocaine addict and was abused as a child. He reveals the religious community covered up the attack. Like the other two, Luzer, the third character in the documentary, left the community at the cost of his family.
Makers Ewing and Grady stayed with Etty, Luzer, and Ari for three years, to document their life and struggles outside the community. The documentary closely records their difficulties adjusting to life in the external world, the anxiety generated from coping up with day-to-day situations and the paranoia haunted them whenever they take a walk outside. ‘One of Us’ is more about what it’s like to leave from an impenetrable cult, and the three people say it’s devastating to the core.
7. Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray (2016)
In 2009, On a ranch outside Sedona, Arizona, self-help guru James Arthur Ray asked his followers to shave their heads and fast even without water for five days in the midst of the desert! There were 50 people among the group who paid 10,000 dollars each for the conclusion of a five-day seminar titles ‘Spiritual Warrior.’ Ray ended the retreat by assigning the tough task. The CNN documentary, ‘Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray‘ chronicles the fateful night of 50 unlucky people in the desert and how the shocking incident paved the way to the fall of the Ray cult.
By sunset, the victims were screaming for water with a dried out throat. Some of them had hallucinations. Eventually, three victims died from heatstroke, and eighteen more were hospitalized with severe mental and physical injuries. From the first witness account of a responder who reached the scene described it as a horrible mass suicide attempt.
Ray was cornered as convicted for charges including negligent homicide. After serving a two-year sentence, he walked free in 2013. ‘Enlighten Us’ follows Ray’s comeback and his life after the imprisonment. Director Jenny Carchman uses the exclusive assess he got into the Ray archives and his family. The documentary draws a vivid picture of the self-help guru using found family footage and photographs. ‘Enlighten Us’ is a harrowing experience because it tells us how far a misled mob can drag when the cult they believe is strong enough.
6. My Scientology Movie (2015)
‘My Scientology Movie’ describes the backstory of one the weirdest religions in the history, ‘Scientology.’ Directed by John Dower and written and presented by Louis Theroux., the documentary unravels a bizarre and greedy cult with ultra-controlling clutches to hold every member. The Scientology members who belong to the same family were allegedly prevented from seeing each other for the reason of ‘one of them is suppressive.’ Allegations also suggest that prominent Hollywood stars were blackmailed to force them to stay within the cult.
Louis Theroux manages to penetrate the fortress of secrets around some Scientology followers in the documentary. But their defense is so strong that he eventually accepts his failure. There are some intriguing visuals in which the followers tactically avoid certain questions from Theroux, and talk about themselves for hours. Theroux digs deep to find the truth behind Scientology’s claim of the world’s leading authority on mental health and its dictum for the members to abstain from seeking proper psychiatric treatments.
5. Holy Hell (2017)
‘Holy Hell’ begins with Will Alle, a 22-year-old film school graduate being kicked out of his house for being openly gay. He is depressed and unsatisfied about his exchanges with society. Raised as a strict Catholic family boy, he is forced to battle with contradictions at an early age. The search for his haunting doubts, take him to The Buddhafield, a Los Angeles based cult spiritual group. They promise his fulfillment, love, and happiness. Will Allen finds temporary solace in the hands of the cult.
His filmmaker education lands him in the role of the group’s official videographer. He starts documenting every day-to-day activity inside the cult. The footage shows a middle-aged man called ‘Michel’ as the cult leader and under his mentorship, a pack of artistic hippies wander on beaches, splashing water, laughing, and hanging out merrily in the visuals.
Michel promises them spiritual awakening in due course; a promise that eventually turns out to be hollow. Allen, the documentarian leaves the cult and compiles hours of stock footage he shot into a mind-blowing documentary for CNN, which we are watching as ‘Holy Hell.’ The documentary is disturbing and informing at the same time. But it is a must watch for those who have a fascination for cults under iron curtains because we learn that we have to pay with our independence for our fascination.
4. The Keepers (2017)
‘The Keepers’ explores the controversial murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik, who disappeared in November 1969 under mysterious circumstances. Sister’s body was found in January of 1970. ‘The Keepers‘ sheds light on the darkest areas of the murder mystery and the alleged connection between Sister Cathy’s death and the sexual abuse incidents of teenage students at Archbishop Keough High School.
Filmmaker Ryan White investigates the allegations that Sister Cathy was going to expose the sexual abuse scandal and was killed before it. The documentary interviews six victims of the sexual abuse scandal by Father Joseph Maskell, who died in 2001. Until his death, Father Maskell had denied the allegations. According to the coroner’s report, Sister Cathy was hit by a blunt object in the head. CNN reported that Father Maskell’s body was exhumed and his DNA was matched with the DNA collected from the murder scene. A couple of days before the release of ‘The Keepers,’ Baltimore County Police declared that the DNA samples did not match.
The documentary delves deeply into this contradiction in the case including a lawsuit filed against Father Maskell by a mysterious ‘Jane Doe’ and Jane Roe,’ who was later identified as Jean Wehner and Teresa Lancaster respectively. ‘The Keepers’ earned a cult status in our times of allegations that Catholic Church covering up cases of pedophilia, for its empathetic portrayal of the devastation of the survivors and the stunning display of their courage to speak out. While Sister Cesnik’s murder remains unsolved, filmmaker Ryan White reveals in latest reports that there are positive developments in the case. ‘The Keepers’ empowered more victims to speak out and the investigators dig into Father Joseph Maskell’s past life.
Read More: Best Vegetarian Documentaries on Netflix
3. Children of God (1994)
‘Children of God’ takes us to the chamber of secrets of the horrifying sex cult, ‘The Children of God.’ Founded by David Berg in 1968 under the name Teens for Christ in Huntington Beach, CA, the cult was projected as a harmless religious group. It was inspired by the Hippie Free Love Movement, their doctrine was free to love. The founder Berg believed and preached that God loved sex because it was beautiful and that Satan hated sex.
Other weird beliefs of the man were that God wanted men to be polygamists and masturbation was a gift from God. Eventually, sexual intercourse became the focus of the cult. ‘The Children of God‘ was accused of encouraging sex with children, and forcing the women followers to attract new members into the cult through sexual solicitation. The documentary is made based on the interviews of director John Smithson that was conducted with a family which was raised within ‘The Family,’ a name used to denote the commune of the cult.
2. KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy (2015)
‘KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy’ offers a closer look at America’s most infamous supremacist group, Ku Klux Klan. Director Dan Murdoch manages to reach out the top leaders of the Loyal White Knights, one of the largest Klan chapters, and documents their secretive rituals for ‘KKK.’ The leadership reveals the truth behind their members wearing the infamous hood with a ritualistic resolution. They also claim ‘KKK’ goes through a phase of revival with new members step-in and incidents of cross burning increase across down South.
It was until a 21-year-old white man shot down nine African Americans preying in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, the world believed KKK’s proclamation of a peace-loving organization. But, with the Charleston massacre, the deep-rooted white supremacist ideology revealed its claws and the reality of a race war emerged as a future possibility.
Dan Murdoch spent several months to get into the leadership of the Loyal White Knights and filming their chores. The documentary also depicts protests organized by Black Power groups, including the New Black Panthers, advocating their counter-ideology to the white supremacy, the black supremacy. ‘KKK’ symbolically cuts the visuals of the Ku Klux Klan and the New Black Panthers protesters come face to face in rival protests organized in South Carolina. The documentary ends as a reminder of the dangers of two extreme visions that engulf the American society.
Read More: Best Political Documentaries on Netflix
1. FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
‘Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened,’ is the craziest addition to Netflix’s documentary vault. It is a stunning look into the Fyre Festival debacle in 2017. When a man named Billy McFarland created a wild music party invite on heaven like Bahamian island, people with expensive tastes and drives flew down with great expectations about the party. The documentary follows the bizarre events happened after the guests landed on the island.
The guests were greeted with a mess of re-purposed makeshift tents instead of suits and villas. They are served with cheese sandwiches in Styrofoam containers instead of delicious meals prepared by celebrity chefs, as promised to them when the organizers charged thousands of dollars. Unable to cope up with the mess and shock, people from the civilized world turn into mere mobs robbing and plundering the island. Some of them even peed on other’s mattresses while a few posting weird Instagram updates.
The documentary doesn’t reveal the actual cause behind the fake party, but it sheds light on the millennial culture of the social media generation. Often, ‘Fyre’ evokes the feeling that by promising supermodels and yachts, then delivering tents and cheese sandwiches and disappearing without a trace leaving behind the guests trapped on the island, is a kind of weird social experiment.
Read More: Best Animal Documentaries on Netflix