Mass poisoning, murder, religious devotion, ecstasy, money laundering, immigration fraud and the bizarre tale of the cult you've probably never heard of.

Sorry Louis (forgive me), but Netflix has done pretty darn well in recent years with its true-crime documentaries. From Making a Murderer to The Keepers and The Confession Tapesit’s become the number one destination for binge-worthy documentary series that you can’t help but spend all day Sunday streaming as you cure a hangover. There’s murder, intrigue, police corruption, jail-time, fraud, sexual assault and all manner of nefarious things in its now multiple original true-crime series. Wild Wild Country is better than all of them.

It revolves around the building of a utopian ranch to be named Rajneeshpuram in the Oregon desert, led by mysterious Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in 1981. A religious movement, the ranch was to become a commune housing thousands of followers of ‘Osho’s’ teachings (although what these are are never really explained…it’s something about pure freedom and ecstasy). Of course, the locals don’t like this much, as more and more ‘reds’ turned up like travellers making their pilgrimage to Glastonbury, tensions turn sour between the Rajneeshis and the rest of the state.

Rajneesh Wild Wild Country

Bhagwan Rajneesh speaking to his followers in Wild Wild Country. Photo: Netflix

Not to spoil the story; one thing leads to another and suddenly the USA has the first bioterror attack and the largest case of illegal wiretapping in its history…and the world’s largest collection of Rolls Royces. There’s attempted murder of fellow cult members and public officials, the drugging of hundreds of homeless people, hundreds of cases of immigration fraud, and a dark underbelly of secrets quite literally forming the foundations of the world’s strangest commune.

A brilliant example of historical documentary making, and with exceptional use of archive, Wild Wild Country is a triumph that on several occasions is quite literally jaw dropping. Directed by Chapman and Maclain Way and produced by exe Mark and Jay Duplass, Wild Wild Country is a bizarre watch that leaves you with more questions than it answers. And we have a lot of questions.

Bhagwan Rajneesh and Ma Anand Sheela in Wild Wild Country. Photo: Netflix

The first question, of course, is – how have I never heard of this bizarre, murderous, international sex cult before? It seems like something we should have heard about. There are clips from BBC reports about the ranch, which suggests it did claim international attention, yet it’s not something that stands out in the shared cultural memories of the post-war period.

Where did all the money come from? The Rajneeshpuram ranch was enormous. It spanned some 64,229-acres in Wasco Country, Oregon and it was full to the brim within years of houses, a shopping centre, secret tunnels, bunkers, massive halls, banks. They had helicopters, a tonne of ammunitions, an airstrip, the Bhagwan had some teens of Rolls Royces. Who, or what, payed for all of this? Furthermore, how did they get al the supplies? If the locals were as sceptical of the sannyasins as we’re made to believe they are in the documentary, then who sold them all these guns; who sold them cars, timber, building supplies?

What about drugs? There were a hell of a lot of wide-eyed looking people in Rajneeshpuram, which at times looks more like Woodstock than a religious commune. Half the time Sheela herself looks bleary eyed, which can maybe be put down to tiredness from running the Bhagwan’s ranch 24/7 with all the military order and precision of a fascist dictator. Her paranoia, particularly towards the end of her reign as the secretary to the Bhagwan, lends to her a darkness around the eyes that does little to hide her fear that she will be displaced as Osho’s right hand man.

She is, however, a fascinating character to watch on screen. The most captivating of the series’ interviewees, Sheela is incredibly difficult to figure out. Her soft-spokenness perhaps disguises her inner lust for power and influence, and her elderly guise today is difficult to reconcile with the scheming, secret tunnel-building, murder-ordering dictator she became at Rajneeshpuram. She seems to believe her own version of events. Namely, she took in hundreds of homeless people because Rajneeshpuram was a place of love and devotion. On the other hand, the town needed numbers to bombard the ballot box in Wasco County, and she did end up drugging them all and shipping them out on busses to an unknown destination.

That is perhaps a central tension of Wild Wild Country, and the one that makes it the most intriguing. What is it that the Rajneeshis want; money, power (political or social), religious domination, missionary fervour, or to practice their faith as they so wished? It’s never really clear what their central beliefs are, as packing heat with more guns than any town their size doesn’t quite balance out with the peace-loving, free-love society the group attempt to promote on the outside. That their leader has an omnipotent power over all his followers, and hides himself away with his thousand-dollar watches and team of flash cars doesn’t match up with their rejection of the rest of American society. So commonly compared to the Jonestown cult, in which hundreds committed suicide by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid, the story of Rajneeshpuram is as disturbing, but there’s no denying it makes for dangerously addictive streaming.

Wild Wild Country is a riveting look at the separation of church and state in 1980s North America, and a truly fascinating look at a part of the world’s cultural history, for it is a truly international phenomenon despite its Oregon setting, that most people have probably forgotten, or never knew in the first place. Bravo Netflix.


Wild Wild Country is on Netflix now.