Any documentary fans know Louis Theroux quite well – and know he’s not one to be scared to tackle controversial subjects. From Nazism, pedophiles, Westboro Baptist Church and porn industry, if there’s a hot topic, Louis will be there, with his unnerving calm manner that seems to make people tell him all their dark secrets all the bloody time. When he announced he was going to make a documentary about Scientology, however, it seemed he finally met something that refused to let him in. At all. Not that it stopped him, obviously.
My Scientology Movie is not the best documentary to make you understand what the Church of Scientology is about (for that, you have the great Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief), and its structure may remind you of another great 2016 documentary, Tickled, but unlike these two, Theroux’s first cinema feature fails to deliver the bacon. Yes, Theroux is followed, filmed, threatened with legal suits, and has some direct confrontations (the budget was probably raised by $5 every time someone screamed YOU’RE TRESPASSING at him), but in the end, we are only left with some actors trying to imitate what may have happened inside the church (under direction and guidance of ex-scientologist and whistleblower Mark Rathbun), including the infamous squirrel busting method (do google it). And though Rob Alter is scarily similar to Tom Cruise, it’s not the same, is it, to see a recreation instead of the real deal?
With plenty of low-quality phone footage (mostly to show scientologists “doing their own documentary” on Theroux), some over-dramatic soundtrack (think Wagner-like) and a horror film vibe from the second act onwards, My Scientology Movie isn’t as powerful as Theroux’s TV productions, but it’s still an entertaining documentary, funny at times, terrifying at others. You may say its biggest problem is never to have any real access to the organisation, and the way Theroux and director Jon Dower tried to work around it is not exactly in true documentary spirit, but again, considering all the obstacles, the film still gives a good portrait of what it means to try to leave the organisation/religion/cult, and shows how people can feel drawn to its beliefs and controversial leader, David Miscavige, in the first place.
It may disappoint if you have great expectations, but My Scientology Movie is still worth a watch, if only to learn how mind control and emotional manipulation works within this specific reality… and outside of it too.
My Scientology Movie was released in the UK on 7th October 2016 and is now available on We Are Colony – https://www.wearecolony.com/