You Must Watch The Most Underrated Cult Thriller On Netflix ASAP
What separates a sect other groups of passionate like-minded people coming together in the service of shared beliefs? Religions, political groups, multi-level marketing companies and self-help movements all do the trick. The most common answers to this question are probably “a charismatic leader”, “no free will”, or “the inability to leave when you want to”.
This 2016 film proves just how dangerous a cult can be, while also trying to avoid those traditional business cards.
Renaissance is a 2016 Netflix original psychological drama written and directed by Karl Mueller. It stars actor Fran Kranz, a criminal actor, as Kyle, a loving husband and father who uses his English degree to write social media articles for a bank. One day an old friend tells him about a unique caring weekend known as “Rebirth”.
Reluctantly, Kyle agrees to attend, throwing him headfirst into an experience like no other. At first, he is in a hotel room and must follow clues, escape room style, to find his way on a bus that will take him to the true retreat. Once there, the vibe is like a rave for dads: just a group of men in their thirties, struggling, cheering and singing.
There, Ray, played by comedic actor Steve Agee, lays out the basic rules of Rebirth:
- You can leave whenever you want
- No leaders
- No spoilers
- No spectators
He then discusses the rumors circulating around Rebirth: namely, that it is a cult. It can’t be a cult, Ray insists, because “a cult doesn’t ask questions, it just gives you answers.” Ray then invites the crowd to start chanting “Not a cult!” Not a sect! again and again. To the untrained eye … yes, that sounds a lot like a cult.
Kyle hesitates, doesn’t join, and he’s called out for breaking rule 4. It’s hard not to be a spectator of something you are experiencing for the first time. Whenever Kyle inquires about an element of his situation, he is given another question in response. “What’s going on?!” he asks. “What do you think is going on? The woman leading the retreat asks him in return.
As he moves from room to room, Kyle confronts darker and deeper truths about those around him. Gradually he is forced to deal with everything from torturing his friend to an orgy which is in its infancy thanks to Gabe, an older man played by Harry Hamlin.
Escaping the seminar should be the whole plot of this movie, but Rebirth turns out to be far more sinister than just an extremely light retreat. When Kyle returns home, it’s clear that something has changed. As Kyle comes to terms with the so-called “importance” of what he was introduced to Rebirth for, that fact becomes all the more inevitable.
The best part of the film, hands down, is its epilogue, which crushes the film’s criticism of the self-help industry with an accurate description of the multi-level marketing companies. Kyle’s wife sells Rebirth0-branded housewares as if she were selling Herbalife, showing off a gnarled, scarred Rebirth logo “mark” that eerily echoes the all-too-real markings inflicted on members of the NXIVM cult.
If you’re looking for a cult thriller that goes out of its way to prove just how harmless cults can come in, this is the perfect movie. Maybe the next time someone tells you about a program that “changed their life”, you can spot the rebirth that lies beneath it.
Renaissance is now streaming on Netflix in the US