Holy Hell (2016) is a cult documentary that’s predictable in many ways but surprising in other deep and challenging ways. After graduating from college, Will Allen wandered into a Los Angeles new age cult called Buddhafield in 1985. The group was led by Michel Rostand—a well-tanned disciplinarian who rarely wore more than Speedos or tight gym shorts—who claimed that he could put people directly in touch with god. Rostand’s message attracted many young beautiful men and women who had flocked to Hollywood in order to pursue their dreams. During the 90s, Buddhafield moved from L.A. to Austin, Texas where it had an impact that is still being felt today.
Will Allen, who was Buddhafield’s de facto documentarian, directs Holy Hell in a standard slick “talking heads” format. Interviews featuring various cult members sprinkled with Allen’s original footage and other archival photos and footage. Holy Hell follows the predictable arc of most stories about cults: a guru gathers a flock and leads them down a blissful path that inevitably turns sour. As soon as Rostand is introduced, one begins to speculate about the ultimate nature of his agenda. Once that agenda is revealed, it is a genuine shocker. Although this is all very familiar material, the unique dynamics of Buddhafield, particularly in terms of gender and sexuality, as well as the strange factual details are what set this film apart from similarly themed cult docs.