Cult Massacre: One Day in Jonestown (2024) Docuseries Review – A real-life horror story that must never be forgotten

A real-life horror story that must never be forgotten

On 18 November 1978, in the Guyanese community of Jonestown, more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple, the religious community led by American cult leader Jim Jones, were the victims of murder-suicide after being made to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. 

This wasn’t how it was meant to be. An advocate for Civil Rights, Jones promised freedom for all, regardless of skin colour. But after promising his followers a chance at a better life, he became increasingly paranoid after the move to Guyana and kept his followers prisoner through blackmail and threats of violence. He then ordered their deaths.

Shortly before this terrible tragedy, American officials and an NBC news crew visited the compound. A note was passed to a reporter by one cult member asking for safe passage away from the hellhole their paradise had become. As seen in the documentary “Cult Massacre: One Day in Jonestown” which is streaming now on Hulu and Disney+, this note triggered Jones into taking violent and fatal action.

The tragedy at Jonestown will likely be familiar to you. The story has been told many times before, through printed reports and other documentaries. As such, you might question the need for another documentary to recount the events of that fateful day in November and the events leading up to it.

Thankfully, this 3-part docuseries is a good one, with fresh insight into what happened at Jonestown via new interviews with survivors and previously unreleased video footage that details the moment-by-moment happenings that led to the mass murder of many. 

What we don’t see in the documentary is early footage of Jim Jones, his rise to becoming a cult leader, or the development of Jonestown. Instead, the focus is on the unfolding crisis that occurred when Congressman Leo Ryan arrived at the community to investigate the possibility that something terrible was going on there. Sadly, like many others on that terrible day, he failed to make it out of there alive to tell his story. 

Some of those who survived the massacre include former Republican Jackie Speiers, who accompanied Leo Ryan on his fact-finding mission. She shares her experiences of Jonestown, alongside former cult members who give us insight into what it was like to live there. We also hear from Stephan Jones, the son of Jim Jones, who talks to us about his life living with the man responsible for the Jonestown tragedy.

Cult Massacre is a disturbing watch, more so because of the archival footage in which we see the faces of many, including children, who hours after the video was taken were lying dead after being shot or poisoned. It’s an event that we might hope will never be repeated but cults still exist that are dangerously close to becoming the next Jonestown.

Of course, it’s not that easy to shut down a cult – the recent Netflix documentary Dancing for the Devil is evidence of this – but more needs to be done by people in power to ensure nothing like Jonestown ever happens again.

When action is taken, we won’t have to watch a docuseries like Cult Massacre. We won’t have to see the faces of those who didn’t know a death sentence had been placed on them. And we won’t have to fear for our own family members who could easily be swayed by somebody as dangerous as the Reverend Jim Jones. 

But until that time, we should be thankful for documentaries like Cult Massacre that act as a powerful reminder that not every religious group has our best interests at its core. As such, as traumatic as the doc is at times, it’s a must-watch, as the events at Jonestown must never be forgotten. 

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  • Verdict - 8/10

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