The most chilling thing about Stanley Nelson’s spellbinding documentary about the mass suicide at Jonestown by the followers of Jim Jones is how plausible he makes it all seem. There’s an attempt made during the presentation of narratives about history’s monsters to fabricate empathy. Usually these attempts, for my money, feel forced. Followers of Charlie Manson, for instance, still make no sense to me. And at the end of the day how such a large group of individuals could have followed a poisonously charismatic “preacher” into the jungle cannot by answered by a film, but I can’t imagine any filmmaker giving it a better shot.
It’s so entertaining I actually felt guilty for my enjoyment (if that’s the right word) of this truly horrific narrative. Historians and experts would be powerless to tell this tale and Nelson realizes this. Instead survivors, the very few that exist, defectors, or relatives of People’s Temple members are witnesses to the riveting history that ended in Guyana, the audio recording of which is chilling beyond belief. The final act, with the tragically failed intervention of a US Congressman, couldn’t have been scripted any better for its dramatic effect.
Opens Oct 20 at Quad Cinema