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THE VOW (2020-22, USA) – 8.5/10


What must happen to a relatively sane person to end up in a cult is one of the questions I will probably never be able to answer. How it is possible that people who are clearly not the typical morons decide to leave their will to a guru, leader or The Vanguard as the cult leader from this documentary series liked to call himself, is really hard to understand. Again, every now and then we see that there are various cults, that all kinds of gurus, life coaches, and manipulators appear who skilfully use human weaknesses and target fragile people in some problematic, difficult periods. One of the more interesting stories about such a modern cult is “The Vow”, a brutal, shocking and incredibly complex and detailed documentary series about the American cult NXIVM and its leader Keith Raniere.

What happened to Raniere and this cult may be known by those who have followed the American media in recent years, and “The Vow” in two seasons and a total of 15 episodes brings us a detailed story about an organization that existed for twenty years and gathered thousands of followers. The distinguished documentary duo Jehane Noujaim – Karim Amer investigated this entire story in depth and filmed a shocking, disturbing and simply amazing documentary series about how years and years of indoctrination and brainwashing can end. Brutal manipulation of people who completely surrendered to a guru whom they were convinced would bring positive changes in their lives and help them reach ideal versions of themselves.

In the first season, we are guided through the story of NXIVM by several former members of the organization whose nominal goal was self-improvement and development of human potential. And one of the authors of the series, Jehane Noujaim, was once recruited into this organization and back in 2007 she planned to make a documentary film about NXIVM after hearing from several people how the lives of many members had improved in just a few days since they joined. joined this organization. However, she did not manage to secure access to Raniere then, and when she came into contact with this organization again after ten years, she heard some completely different stories. Stories about sexual abuse, manipulation, racketeering, blackmail and numerous other illegal activities. And while Noujaim was unable to get access to Raniere, one of the fugitive members of the organization, South African filmmaker Mark Vicente spent years filming everything that happened in NXIVM and how this rather secretive organization developed.

Vicente and his wife Bonnie Piesse and another ex-cult member Sarah Edmondson are actually the main protagonists of the first season. They bring an in-depth insight into the whole story and recall how they themselves were initially completely fascinated by Raniere, a man they considered a genius and a man capable of changing the world. They believed that they were really creating a better world and it took many of them more than ten years to finally see and understand what was happening. And everything starts like one of those typical Self Help stories about helping people, taking advantage of their potential, but over time it will turn into something completely sick and perverted. Something unreal, crazy and amazing, and it is unimaginable how it is possible that so many people allowed themselves to do something like this.

We will also see how the situation will completely get out of control when even more secret subgroups start to be established within that secret organization, and that wise Life Coach, intelligent guru Keith Raniere will turn into the leader of a sex cult who asked the members to make a vow to him for eternity faithfulness and stamp his initials on private parts of the body. This is where the story becomes completely shocking, dark, and it is slowly revealed that with years and years of manipulation, brainwashing and targeting of these vulnerable, insecure people, Raniere managed to turn them into a group ready to learn everything for him. We will see what kind of psychological methods Raniere used, but also all those who were close to him and who knowingly or unknowingly participated in building a sex cult for a complete patient, a complete psychopath who managed to seduce many people for so many years.