Escaping the NXIVM Cult (2019 Lifetime)
Synopsis (via Lifetime)
When Catherine learns about a leadership seminar from a new organization called NXIVM, she decides to take her twenty-year-old daughter India to the professional development meeting. Led by the extremely enigmatic Keith Raniere, Catherine can’t help but shake the feeling there’s more than meets the eye with the self-help organization. Despite Catherine’s best efforts, India is drawn deeper into the cult, eventually joining a secret sorority of female members who are branded with the cult leader’s initials, ordered to maintain a restricted diet and forced to recruit other women as sex slaves.
So, I should start off by saying that any comments made here are about the movie and not to the real-life situation… which is terrible. I recommend checking out the podcast Uncover: Season 1 to learn more.
Since this movie is part of “Ripped from the headlines” series on Lifetime. The network also gives us a disclaimer at the top of the film. The real-life Catherine Oxenberg (of Dynasty fame who is also a producer for this project.) narrates the movie.
As the narrator explains that what happened could happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. We see naked girls holding down another girl and branding her? Seem like that wouldn’t happen to me!
Next, we meet the fictional Catherine. (Played by Andrea Roth with a ridiculous accent.) She is working on her script and raising her daughter, Indy or India. I guess Catherine has multiple children, going through a divorce, and a husband named Peter? The white people are coming in hot at the top of this movie.
Indy is a bit lost because her baking business hasn’t taken off, and she is considering going back to college. Catherine is also feeling a bit aimless because she is a middle-aged woman in Hollywood and is stalled out in her career.
When her POC gay friend, Julian, invites her to an NXIVM group meeting about “business,” Catherine jumps at the opportunity. She encourages her daughter to come along with her. NXIVM is offering workshops for $2,400 and promises to provide ethical business practices and tips to get out of your own way! Julian is immediately out, but Catherine and Indy continue on. At another meeting, we learn that the NXIVM people wear scarves, and they are color-coded, kind of like karate? Catherine and Indy sign non-disclosure and fill out a questionnaire that asks things like “What is your biggest fear” and “What are you ashamed of?“ The NXIVM people separate mother and daughter, and they make them repeat cult-like things. Catherine is not a fan and questions everything. India, on the other hand, buys into the NXIVM way of thinking.
On the final NXIVM class, the NXIVM people read the answers to the questions out loud and emotionally manipulate them. Catherine and India get their white scarves and then sign up for a two week “female empowerment” intensive in Albany, NY. There they will meet Allison Mack (An actress from Smallville.) and are very inspired. Allison tells India that she thought she had it all but found more answers and enlightenment with NXIVM. Next, they meet NXIVM leader Keith Raniere, (played by Peter Facinelli) cheats at volleyball and kisses lots of girls on the mouth.
Catherine is starting to get weirded out and wants to leave. She sees a woman sleeping on the floor to serve penance. When Catherine tells India that she wants to go, India asks to stay because she is where she is supposed to be. Catherine tells her daughter that she loves her and leaves.
Now alone and rooming with Allison Mack, India learns more manipulation that Keith places on the NXIVM female members. Like, restricting their diets to 800 calories a day so they can be skinny. Allison Mack tells India that she could be a coach if she recruits more people to join. They even buy her a cafe to run, which was her dream… remember she likes baking!
At her birthday party back in LA with her family and friends, India tries to recruit everyone and says it is her birthday wish. Her friends call her out and ask her if she is on drugs. Catherine also tells her daughter to stop recruiting. India tells her mom that she will be using her inheritance to cover the 50,000 NXIVM coaching program.
Back in Albany, Keith sings “This little light of Mine” during the sunset. He pulls India aside and tells her that she is a chosen one. She is ready to be molded and sculpted. He then spouts a bunch of misogynistic ideologies and kisses India. He assigns her to a new top-secret project. Which is like a fucked-up sorority called Daws. Allison Mack strips India down and introduces her to her new sisters. (Which means a bunch of naked girls hold her down and brand her.)
Bonnie, a married, not in the sorority, NXIVM member sees the whole thing going down and calls Catherine to tell her that things aren’t right. Catherine and her family have been concerned for India, but Catherine had no idea how messed up it has gotten. Bonnie breaks it down for Catherine and tells her that her daughter has been branded and is a sex slave. Catherine receives a name of someone who can help her save her daughter.
Catherine wants to stage an intervention. Still, the specialist tells her not to accuse India of anything or speak back of NXIVM. She goes to cult specialists and detectives, and they don’t really help. She finds Carlos, who defected from NXIVM. He tells Catherine that Keith has had sex slaves for years, and no one cares. Anyone who defects is inundated with lawsuits. Catherine decides to take Keith on herself and use her press contacts to play this out publicly. (but not before screaming/crying in the car and bang the steering wheel.)
India’s grandma sends her a plane ticket to come back to LA for two days for her birthday. Once India is back, Catherine stages her intervention. Catherine kind of ruins the whole thing by confronting India in the car. (Has she never seen Intervention?) India admits to being branded but denies being in a cult. India leaves on the next flight, and Catherine starts doing podcasts and interviews.
Allison Mack is feeling like she is losing control of India and gets frantic. Keith is not concerned, but his handlers are. They take Keith to Mexico and leave India behind to run the cafe and act like everything is normal. Before India can book her ticket to Mexico too, the FBI takes her into custody.
Keith and Allison Mack are arrested in Mexico and brought back to the USA. They are both on trial for sex trafficking. The NXIVM woman pleads guilty and apologizes for breaking the law. Some of them think that they still did some good. Keith is found guilty on all counts and will spend the rest of his life in jail.
Catherine and her daughter are reunited. India goes back to her beautiful home in LA and plays with the infinity pool with her sisters. She is being rehabilitated and is proud of her mom for getting her out of NXIVM. (She will conveniently be releasing a memoir.)
Directed by a female! Lisa Robinson does an excellent job incorporating a lot of material into an hour and a half.
Acting in this was pretty decent.
Minority Report: Julian (Catherine’s gay friend!), Cult expert, Police Detective.
🔪🔪🔪 (3 Knives)
🍷🍷🍷 (3 glasses of wine required)
*Photo Credit: © 2019 Lifetime