I’ll spare you the clichéd “truth is stranger than fiction” line when talking about Will Allen’s documentary “Holy Hell,” but only because it does not apply in the slightest. Cult-related narrative features like “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “The Master” and “The Sacrament” (just to name a few) wring tension and intellectual rigor out of their plotted adventures. Allen’s pieced-together footage from his own experiences in the Buddhafield cult, on the other hand, feels like a collection of oddities presented for an audience’s marveling.
Culling from over decades of raw material, Allen provides a comprehensive portrait of the new religious movement into which he was swept. Like many who fall prey to the allure of fringe communities, he was lost and in need of some overarching value system to provide him meaning and belonging. (It’s no coincidence that the group achieved critical mass in Hollywood, a place where the fragile and insecure tend to congregate.)
But all these videos, interesting and compelling though they might be, ultimately lose their luster once it becomes clear that scant commentary will come along with it. Save the comforting and catching up with wounded ex-members towards the close, “Holy Hell” almost never reflects backwards. It’s almost like watching an actual found footage flick about the cult head Michel Rostand, a charismatic leader in a speedo who looks like the kind of figure that the object of a teen girl in an ‘80s movie. With years to distance himself from Buddhafield and process what happened, it’s disappointing that Allen’s filmic memoir is so bland. B- /