Also bringing in the new year is author J.P. Pomare’s long-awaited second novel In The Clearing, set in rural Victoria and inspired by the real-life story of Anne Hamilton-Byrne’s The Family, a New Age group formed in the mid-1960s which reportedly tortured children after stealing them through adoption.
Internationally, American journalist Elizabeth Vargas will bring her trademark razor-sharp investigative skills to SBS Viceland in docuseries Cults and Extreme Beliefs, where she profiles some of history’s most notorious cults and speaks to the brave survivors who have escaped the grasp of evil leaders.
On the silver screen, the long- awaited critically acclaimed horror film The Dark Red will see breakout star April Billingsley play a young woman who is committed to a psychiatric hospital after claiming her newborn baby was stolen by a deranged blood cult.
If you can’t help but harbor a sick fascination with cults, you’re not alone. According to Jo Thornely, author and host of podcast Zealot, the rise of sects on our screens has come off the back of a surge of interest in true crime. “It’s like a package deal,” exclaims the self-described cult obsessive. “You often have murder or fraud or sex scandals all bundled up into one and people are completely fascinated by it.” The allure of gory, gruesome, gritty stories is strong.
In the words of Thornely, “I just want more and more.” Luckily for us, you can’t spell pop culture without cult.
Famous Followers: The celebs who grew up in cults
The actor spent the first nine years of her life living in the polygamous Children of God sect, which counted more than 15,000 members worldwide. “We left because they started advocating child-adult sex and that was too far for my father.”
Phoenix and his family were part of a sect in the ’70s but left the group when they realised they were in a cult. “Cults rarely advertise themselves as such, but the moment my parents realised there was something more to it, they got out.”
The first five years of Maguire’s life in a polygamist cult came to light after she appeared on The Bachelor in 2016. The cult was founded by her father in the ‘70s and was dubbed “The Seaside Sect.” Maguire’s mum was one of nine “wives” and the cult leader reportedly had 64 children in total.
DAVID AND PATRICIA ARQUETTE
The Arquettes had an unusual start to life, living on a commune in Virginia with no electricity, bathrooms or running water. The famous siblings’ parents started the commune with friends to build a utopian society, however drug abuse and violence turned it into hell for their children.
During her childhood, Ryder’s family lived in a commune in Northern California with six other families. While she acknowledges that it was unconventional and might evoke cult-like images, she looks back on it fondly. “The place we lived at was 380 acres of redwoods. It was beautiful.”
At the age of seven the Hollywood legend, along with the rest of her family, moved to Switzerland to join the spiritual movement Moral Re-Armament (MRA). Close, who remained in the cult until she was 22, described it as an oppressive environment.
This article originally appeared in the March issue of marie claire.