(2017) Documentary (1091) Lara Anderson, Dr. Susan Clancy, Karen de la Camere, Jeffrey Augustine, Barrett Brown, Shane Clark, Sarah Seltzer, Nathan Tompkins, Joke Reedor, David Gartrell, Bill Franks, Christopher Hartney, Janette Haugen. Directed by Jeffrey Peixoto
Some movies are easy enough to review. Others are “I can’t even.” This is one of them.
This documentary purports to be about fringe beliefs and it starts out that way, with psychologist Susan Clancy talking about clinical studies done on people claiming to be alien abductees who called the experience both the worst thing that ever happened to them as well as the best thing that ever happened to them. This non-sequitur moves from there to art dealers who handle Thomas Kincaid paintings – essentially the Muzak of art – who then start waxing poetic about the blessings of Scientology.
From there it goes into a fairly fawning look at the pseudo-religion/pseudo-science that feels more like propaganda than information, following several members who refer to founder L. Ron Hubbard as almost a God-like figure. It is somewhat disturbing in some ways.
Some time is spent in Clearwater, a town here in Florida which is largely owned by the Church of Scientology – whose members are made to be so busy they can’t even enjoy the beautiful beaches there. However, most of the interviewees live in Southern California and they are as pretentious a group of people you’ll ever see in the same movie. They use a lot of spiritual aphorisms and essentially come off as the stereotypes of SoCal nutjobs. Having grown up there, I can tell you that people like this do exist although they aren’t the norm; several times I felt my palm making the journey to my face, in violation of medical advice in this era of viral contagion.
The movie then takes a darker turn as Lara Anderson, who grew up in Scientology with her parents who were deeply into the cult, being reported by her own father to church officials for the sin of speaking to former members who left the Church to try and discover what prompted them to leave. A phone call with her indoctrinated Pa is shown here and it may very well be the most disturbing thing you see in the film.
I’m really not sure what Peixoto was attempting to do here, and I suspect neither was he. At the end of the day, this is scattered, poorly organized and scattershot. Is this a puff piece on Scientology, or a documentary showing the disturbing side of the cult? I don’t know; following the Anderson sequence the film returns to the art dealers lovingly demonstrating the pseudo-scientific “E-meters” which are used in “audits” to determine….oh, I don’t know what. And I don’t care. And neither will you.
REASONS TO SEE: A good opportunity to make fun of Southern Californians.
REASONS TO AVOID: At times feels a bit much like Scientology propaganda. Some of these nutjobs are outrageously pretentious.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief profanity as well as descriptions of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: According to IMDb, this is the first film of any kind by Peixoto.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, Vimeo, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/15/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: My Scientology Movie
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT: Extra Ordinary