A secretive religious sect founded by a sci-fi novelist, marketed by Hollywood slebs, dedicated to intergalactic peace and run by a mysterious Chairman: the Church of Scientology is hardly the most challenging subject for a humorous documentary. But here comes Louis Theroux, on a mission to investigate the Church’s controversial history through a mixture of interviews, recreations and likeable bumbling.
As in Alex Gibney’s far more serious and effective 2015 documentary ‘Going Clear’, one of the key voices is former Scientology insider Marty Rathbun, who helps Louis train a group of jobbing actors – some of them scarily convincing – to play members of the Church’s top brass. These scripted skits then play out like a kind of low-rent ‘The Act of Killing’, interspersed with scenes of Theroux driving out to Scientology’s ‘Gold Base’ in the California desert to engage in passive-aggressive debates with the hapless security staff who emerge to intercept him.
‘My Scientology Movie’ is all a bit toothless and jokey; and if you’ve seen Gibney’s film – or indeed any of the Scientology-themed ‘South Park’ episodes – you’ll already know most of the juicy details. Still, Louis is an effortlessly charismatic, engaging host, and his film is never less than entertaining.