Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

In his new doco Louis Theroux takes on Scientology and wins

The big problem with Scientology, aside from of course everything, is that Scientologists are just so damn secretive. It's suspicious. Gives off the impression that they're up to no good.

What are they doing back there, behind their walled compounds and surveillance heavy fortresses? And why don't they want to talk about it?

It is, after all, a religion so shouldn't they be sharing the love? Or at least relentlessly bugging people about it? That's how these things usually work, right? So what is it that Scientologists have to hide?

Aside from of course, everything.

I really didn't know. But I was curious. Because that's the thing with us humans, we always want to know the stuff other people don't want us to. The tricky part is getting close enough to find that stuff out.

LISTEN: Louis Theroux: Journalists viewed as enemies by Scientology

One of the best people on the planet at getting close to this sort of thing is British journalist Louis Theroux.

If you don't know him he could accurately be described as Britain's answer to our David Farrier. Although, technically speaking, it was Theroux who pioneered the branch of journalism that sees charming and bespectacled fellows poking around the peculiarities of society's lifestyles.

Theroux's previous documentaries have seen him spending time with Nazis, racists, the family at the heart of America's intolerant Westboro Baptist Church and more violent and abhorrent criminals than is entirely reasonable. Or safe.

But somehow, through his odd mix of disarming naivety, nerdy charisma and extreme smarts, he always manages to endear himself to his subjects. He's a guy it seems impossible to not like. Even if you're the very embodiment of a hater.

Theroux is just so unassuming and unthreatening that his subjects seem to forget that he is also the undisputed master of handing people more and more rope from which to hang.

This means that in all of his documentaries there's a part where his subject is so relaxed, so comfortable, in his presence that their guard slips and every ounce of their true horror is revealed. The truly frightening part usually being how casual and blase, they are about it. The normalcy in which they live their truths.

But his real gift, aside from an unwavering commitment to embracing and enduring the most uncomfortable of silences, is his ability to find the humanity lurking deep within the monster. No matter how dried and shrivelled up that humanity may be.

He'll hang a person,sure, but he'll also pay his respects.

But good as is he is - and he really is the best - even he couldn't get past the gatekeepers of Scientology's secrets.

So his new feature length documentary My Scientology Movie, which is released in cinemas on Thursday, is all about Theroux attempting to make a documentary about Scientology as opposed to being a documentary about Scientology.

He asked the Scientologists to take part but they refused. This disappointed, but didn't surprise him. No media has been granted an audience with David Miscavige, Scientology's grand poobah, since 1992.

Still, he decided to forge ahead and tell the story he knew. He'd lined up some ex-Scientologists who had been high up in the organistion and had some pretty big extraordinary claims of beatings and violence and abuse within those closed off walls. It was a cult, they said, that they had been lucky to escape from.

Because an actual Scientologist wouldn't talk to him he began casting actors in prime Scientologist roles, Miscavige, Tom Cruise etc, and getting them to re enact key moments from the new religions brief history, based on eye-witness accounts or old interview footage.

The other thing about human nature is FOMO. And once the church got wind of what Theroux was up to they went all out to appear in the movie.

They sicced their lawyers on him. They followed him in mysterious utes with black-tinted windows. They regularly appeared out of the blue, pointing cameras and heckling - a form of bullying they call "squirreling".

None of it worked, of course. In fact, it totally backfired. Instead of scaring him off it only earned them the starring role.

The movie leaves no doubt that this is a sinister, albeit clumsy, organisation. It gets as up and close and personal to those squirrelly Scientologists as you can without actually joining their cash-hungry cult and ascending to grand admiral Zod status.

Theroux, as always, is terrific, and watching him shrugging off their threats and jeers before turning the tables and sending them running with nothing more than a softly asked question is a hilarious joy.

But if anything My Scientology Movie proves that actions speak louder than words. Especially in the face of resolute silence.

- NZ Herald

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