It’s been quite a time for cult movies—that is, movies about cults, rather than movies that have a cult following (although some are both)! There must be something in the water: Last week, Fandor released a limited run of Holy Smoke, a movie by Jane Campion (Top of the Lake) from the turn of the millennium in which Kate Winslet plays an ardent devotee to an Indian guru and Harvey Keitel plays the macho deprogrammer sent by her parents to “fix” her. And this week, we found trailers for two new movies about questionable therapies and supernatural enclaves that are full of scintillating secrets.
Of course, the highly enjoyable Netflix docuseries Wild, Wild Country (which, fun fact, was produced by our beloved Mark and Jay Duplass) hasn’t exactly slaked our thirsts for that sweet, sweet cult content. As Creed from The Office would say, “You make more money as a leader, but you have more fun as a follower.” So here we have two movies about the dark side to the seemingly noble quest for enlightenment, or, at least, absolution. One is a body-horror dramedy, the other is anything but.
Speaking of Wild, Wild Country...is it just us, or is The Ashram’s guru a dead ringer for the erstwhile Rajneeshee leader, Osho? The hair, the beanie, and the cadence of his speech seem so familiar…oh, and his followers all wear red, too? Interesting. Very interesting. Even Melissa Leo seems to be channeling Catherine Jane Stork, an Australian Rajneeshee who features heavily in the docuseries. To be honest, without the presence of the objectively-awesome Kal Penn lending tacit approval to this production, we’d be much quicker to dismiss this movie as a much darker Basmati Blues (and to be clear, by that we mean a big, huge, honkin’ mistake), but we’re gonna give this one the benefit of the doubt, if only to find out where it all goes and how much it actually parallels the true story of the Rajneeshees and their charismatic leader.
While The Ashram teases plenty of vaguely supernatural scares, The Cleanse attempts to answer that age-old question: “What if you could meet your inner demons?” With an SFX team that looks like it was yanked straight from post-production of season two of Stranger Things, The Cleanse is from the perspective of a believer (or at least, a wannabe-believer) rather than a skeptic, which makes sense—wouldn’t you drink literally anything Queen Anjelica Huston told you to? While The Ashram’s spiritual community seems suspiciously like Antelope, Oregon’s Rajneeshpuram, we’re getting a distinctly Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind vibe from The Cleanse’s mysterious Roberts Institute, from its logo and its TV ads to its strange employees. Doesn’t it seem like just the kind of thing you’d find in a sponsored Instagram ad one day? And therein lies its genius. The Cleanse will be in theaters starting May 4, and we can’t wait to see what else gets “released,” if you catch our drift.