Story: In 1992, Gwen Shamblin found a recipe for financial success when she connected religion with weight loss. Her Weigh Down Workshops claimed that divine intervention would help shed the pounds and some of her clients even had great stories of losing weight. She would double down on that success in 1999, founding Remnant Fellowship Church and taking the leadership role. In an affluent town filled with conservative Christians, Shamblin was able to not only turn her church into a very profitable enterprise, but into a full blown cult. As she gained wealth and power, she would position herself as a prophet and use that reputation to cash in even more. But how did a weight loss program turn into an evangelical cult with some dark secrets?

Entertainment Value: As someone who can’t get enough documentaries about cults, I went into The Way Down with some optimistic expectations. I didn’t know a lot about Remnant Fellowship aside from the news stories around the plane crash, so it was an eye opener to watch Shamblin’s story unfold. The kind of greed on showcase here is typical of evangelical organizations, but Shamblin took her lust for wealth well beyond most churches and religious sects. Her willingness to prey upon those desperate to lose weight was quite disturbing, not to mention her total lack of conscious about her actions. She comes off as focused, cold, and unfeeling in the interviews shown in The Way Down, exactly the kind of person you’d expect to lead a cult of greed. Of course, Shamblin’s outlandish, 80s style hair steals the show at times and has to be seen to be believed. As the cult was still active when this docuseries was produced, there isn’t much from current members or inside footage of the organization, but some archival footage is used to supplement the narrative. I think the filmmakers were able to weave a superb look inside Shamblin’s empire here, despite some access limitations.

The Way Down is a three episode limited series, a length that allows the show to move at a good pace, while also imparting all the needed information. I feel this is about the ideal duration, as it never drags in the least and also never feels rushed, even as it rallies toward the conclusion. I wouldn’t mind updates at all however, should new footage be uncovered or new developments unfold at Remnant. The episodes include a wealth of various sources, with a focus on interviews with former members, most of whom are candid and have strong opinions, to put it lightly. These folks provide an inside take that this kind of documentary needs, especially since an active cult isn’t going to participate directly, leaving the details to the interviewees to share. I’m sure there are some sour grapes, but given the wild circumstances involved, I trust their stories more than Remnant’s. I appreciated the archival materials immensely, from Gwen’s own depositions to the promotional and media elements used to fuel Remnant, which can be quite interesting, to say the least. If you have even a slight interest in cults or colorful, dysfunctional people, The Way Down is definitely worth a look.