The Cult Next Door

The Cult Next Door
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Review

In November 2013 three women were rescued from a house in Brixton where they had been held as slaves for 30 years. Their captor and “guru” was Aravindan Balakrishnan, who had established a Maoist collective in the 1970s that had gradually dwindled to a small group of women whom “Comrade Bala” brainwashed and in some cases sexually abused.

One of the women, Katy, was Balakrishnan’s daughter. Released when she was 30 years old, she had never been to school or known any life other than the house. Katy is interviewed for this extraordinary documentary and recalls how Bala claimed to have an all-powerful machine (incongruously called “Jackie”) that could control nature and would harm them if they escaped.

Director Vanessa Engle unearths absurd, almost comic, strands in a story from which fresh horrific details keep spilling, but it’s a sad and troubling programme that leaves questions rattling in your head.

Summary

The extraordinary story of a strange cult that came to light in 2013, when three women emerged from a small flat in Brixton, south London, after decades in captivity. The documentary traces the group back to its roots in the 1970s, when Aravindan Balakrishnan, who believed in an international communist revolution, created a tiny political sect that followed the teachings of China's Chairman Mao. However, his left-wing collective evolved into a pseudo-religious cult, in which members were controlled, threatened and brainwashed so that they were too terrified to leave.

Cast & Crew

Director Vanessa Engle
Editor Paul Carlin
Documentary