‘Dancing For The Devil’ Review: A Shocking Tale Of Dancers And A Cult That Isn’t Impactful

Netflix and their love for documentary features is never-ending. There are countless documentaries, movies, and shows on the streaming platform that talk about various kinds of subjects. However, Netflix has a certain affinity for the topic of cults and the leaders that run them. Wild Wild Country, How to Become a Cult Leader, Escaping Twin Flames, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, and Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator are some of the documentaries on cults that have taken over the lives of the people. The incidents covered in the documentaries mentioned above were spread out over several decades and compiled by the streaming giant for people to understand what happens in those vast lands that bring together people from different backgrounds.

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Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult is a three-part documentary that was released on May 29, 2024. Each episode of the documentary is almost an hour long. The makers bring together the families of young men and women who moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in dancing, only to accuse Robert Shinn, the pastor of the Shekinah Church, of luring them into his cult in the name of making them popular through social media. The show chronicles the stories of several family members from across the United States of America who lost their extremely talented dancer children to Shekinah Church. 

Directed by Derek Doneen, the three-part series talks about how the cult worked slowly and steadily into the lives of young men and women, and they eventually were not allowed to have any kind of communication with their families. The story also includes the tale of two sisters who were Korean immigrants who survived the cult. Along with them, many dancers came forward to discuss how they were lured in, and how they found a way out of it due to their better instincts. The show also talks about the leader, who has been known to have enticed and attracted many young men and women whose only aim is to achieve success. Under the garb of the talent management agency 7M, they manage to recruit people and force the members to stay put and maintain minimum contact with the world outside of social media.

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The show does a good job of establishing who runs the cult, and through the stories of several family members, the man Robert Shinn is established. There is a lot of similarity to what audiences may have witnessed in the other Netflix documentary, “How to Become a Cult Leader.” This series has in detail explained the kind of powers these cult leaders who use religion or an ideology as their weapon and begin to brainwash vulnerable people have. It is easy to figure out how Robert Shinn shows all the signs described in the Netflix documentary. The show goes in – depth into the lives of the members who were a part of the cult and eventually got away from it. However, it is the families who are still not able to have a proper relationship with their children who are a part of the 7M agency and run their lives as per Robert Shinn’s Shekinah Church. The good aspect of this documentary series is that it exposes people to knowledge of how people like Robert Shinn exist and entices their target audience. The makers of the documentary also explore how the hunger to have high social media numbers has emerged, be it on Instagram, TikTok, or any other online platform. Many men and women equate popularity and talent with wide reach through social media. 

It is interesting to watch how the cults and the leaders have grown and moved on over time. Earlier, cults could sustain themselves for a long time because of the non-existence of the internet and social media. However, with technology progressing, many people who choose to stay in or out of social media can still propagate a cult in their own way. Every group finds a loophole and manages to prosper, and this is described well in the documentary. 

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To further add to this phenomenon, social media has caused a further divide between people of two or three variant ideologies. The cult at this time exists only because there are people who are willing to hear an alternative narrative that suits their lives. Most of the cults end up dissolved because of mounting criminal or financial cases against them, and this topic is also covered by the makers. Sadly, even though it is commendable that these subjects are raised; there is nothing new to hear about Robert Shinn, his Shekinah Church, and his devout followers. There is nothing new about the government bodies or the law not taking the case of manipulation and sexual harassment allegations against Robert and other top-tier members of the Shekinah Church seriously. The very public serving of the lawsuit to Robert Shinn at a restaurant just adds to the drama without any proper conclusion. 

The makers could have focused on the life of Robert Shinn and his family, who started the church. There was hardly any mention of why the church came into existence, who were their earlier members, or if they had a group that ran on some other ideology. Here, Robert Shinn seems like a milder version of Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple. The direction of this series is, however, not that good. The makers do not offer up basic aspects like the names of the speakers while they are discussing their stories related to the church and Robert Shinn. Also, the editing of the series is haphazard because the timelines go back and forth on too many items, and there is no clarity on which incident took place in which year. These are some of the technical aspects that stand out like a sore thumb. Even though the plight of the family and the ex-members is understandable, they deserve better storytelling. 

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Cults are a cool subject from the outside, but if you speak to anyone who has been a part of one, there are countless stories of trauma, sexual harassment, and mental torture that no one seems to want to explore. There was also a subplot in the documentary about Priscylla Lee, an ex-member of the Shekinah Church, confronting her father in a public place about the dire effects of being a part of Robert Shinn’s church. This was unnecessary, and it felt like the makers had forcefully added it.

Dancing for the Devil The 7M TikTok Cult has narrative issues, and the engagement factor is low, which makes the documentary very similar to many others on a similar subject matter. The makers did not present this show uniquely, and the redundant filmmaking makes it a slow watch. 

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Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.

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