Dance with the Devil (2024)


Dance with the Devil Review

Dancing for the Devil: The 7M TikTok Cult is sensational, garish and lurid. It tells the story of a group of loosely connected TikTok dancers in Los Angeles who join 7M, a management company that also happens to be a private, invite-only church run by Pastor Robert Shinn. Many of the dancers’ friends and family now believe they have joined a cult and the testimonies of ex-members certainly give them good reason to think so. But this tale takes its many stranger than fiction elements and weaves them into something that is unusually tender (for Netflix, anyway) as well as deeply sad.

Director Derek Doneen uses the Wilking sisters as his way into what starts out as a story about social media spectacle and young ambition. Miranda and Melanie Wilking grew up in a working class home in Detroit, dreaming of becoming professional dancers; there are home movies of them dancing in front of the TV as little girls. Later, when they realise that social media might help them get noticed in the dance world, too, they start gaining followers on platforms such as Vine, eventually they build up an audience together on TikTok of over 3.3m.

The founder of 7M (which he calls a “talent management company”) and pastor at Shekinah Church Robert Shinn seems to have seen an opportunity here creative ambition combined with relative poverty plus youthful business naivety or antipathy was never going to be difficult to exploit. A number of these TikTok dancers became linked with 7M so that Shinn could curate their brand deals etc, he housed them affordably and attractively while also providing a comfortable content creation environment but only if they attended his services regularly, joined his church and gave themselves over to God through him being “a man of God”.

The documentary starts to take on a more traditional cult structure as it becomes apparent how much Shinn and Shekinah have become involved in the lives of their members. The church tells people to “die to themselves” and their families, according to ex-members and recordings of Shinn though it’s wrapped in flowery language about resurrection and rebirth, outsiders might recognize this as an age-old fundamentalist tactic for cutting people off from those who love them so they’re easier to tie into new belief systems. It gets darker from there, building up a wider picture with each episode. Shinn denies abuse; interviewees here talk about their time in the church.

If you’ve been following some of the major players online, you’ll have seen something like this unfolding on social media. Melanie had to post a video explaining why she and her sister no longer dance together. Miranda (now married to fellow 7M member James “BDash” Derrick, called Miranda Derrick) posts videos denying that she is unsafe or in a cult. The girls’ parents Dean and Kelly joined Melanie for a livestream where they accused the church of brainwashing their daughter. But one of the most upsetting scenes comes when Miranda finally agrees to meet up with her parents after cutting off almost all contact with them only for Miranda to livestream it while telling her followers that her parents are the problem.

As a zeitgeist portrait, this thing is horrifyingly hypnotic: I’ve never seen spectacle blend so seamlessly into reality before now. But it’s at its strongest when taking the human angle, showing not just what the church did to those who left but what it did does to families like Melanie’s who stayed behind without them. I just found one aspect difficult to square: Shinn talks about how famous this church will be and how everybody will know about 7M well, if they didn’t before, then they certainly will now.

Watch Dance with the Devil For Free On Gomovies.

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