Beyond Our Ken is a fascinating and, at times, horrifying documentary about the makings and the processes of a cult and the forces behind them. Directors Luke Walker and Melissa MacLean have expertly crafted a film of immense power and sadness as they peek inside the workings of the Kenja Communication cult, a cult that like so many others deals in false smiles and life affirmations. That they were allowed unprecedented access to the group - they don't like being called a cult, naturally - and the group's leader Ken Dyers gives it a quality that is reminiscent of Amy Berg's heartbreaking 2006 doco Deliver Us from Evil.
Interviewing past - and in one case, a current - members of the group, Beyond Our Ken thoroughly details the shocking actions of the cult and its leader, a man so delusional that he and his associates equates himself to the most powerful man on Earth. Much like Berg's film about clergy abuse, Walker and MacLean's film gleans a lot of its strength of the tales of horror that emerge from behind the ever-smiling energetic faces of the cult's members. A mother reading her son's suicide letter that was written just months after being disowned by Kenja. Another mother's tortured story of her son, NIDA graduate Richard Leape, as she tells of how her son, after being unceremoniously kicked out of the sect, descended into homelessness and has been on the Missing Persons List for the past 16 years.
The film's biggest strength - if you can call it that - however, is that of Ken Dyers himself, and his co-founder Jan Hamilton. The two quickly show themselves to be, for lack of a better term, deranged crazies. With their talk of energy conversions and attached spirits, it soon becomes obvious that while the film was perhaps originally attempting to be even-handed and fair, it's hard to do so when the subjects are making it so darn hard on themselves. Several moments through the film in which Dyers discusses the transference of sexual energy always followed by his creepy laugh are down right irksome to watch and whenever he and Hamilton share the screen he shows his egotistical side and clearly doesn't want her to steal his spotlight, routinely interrupting her and not letting her finish any of her sentences. It all culminates in a shocking final sequence in which Dyers, who has since committed suicide in the face of yet another abuse scandal, goes into an angry rage that would earn him an Oscar if it weren't for the fact that it is all real.
Beyond Our Ken is an illuminating documentary and acts as the purest form of the genre. It's hard not to be disgusted by the words being put forth by these people, and it's scary to think that there are people walking around out there who are under the spell of this cult - there really is no other word for it, despite what Dyers says. The film's tagline is "You Wouldn't Know a Cult If You Joined One" and, sadly, that is very much the case with this institution. One can only hope that enough people see this wonderful film to help prevent the further loss of rationale and seemingly intelligent people to it's evil clutches. B+
Beyond Our Ken is out now on DVD and has a limited engagement at CinemaNova in Carlton, Melbourne so do check it out. It has also been nominated for the Best Documentary prize at the upcoming AFI Awards. If you wish to hear more about it click here for a Q&A audio file that was recorded after the film's screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Even more fascinating stuff!