There is a fascinating documentary waiting to be made about the readily duped adherents of new-age miracle cures — the sort of people who hawk snake-oil elixirs across the country as if their power were genuinely divine.
The problem with The Grounded, a doc about the “profound curative effects” of bare-skin contact with the earth, is that it has been made by those people. Though its claims are uniformly outrageous and, of course, unsubstantiated by anything like scientific proof, the film remains possessed of such earnest belief that the appropriate response isn’t so much skepticism as surprise that anybody could be so easily deceived.
The result is sort of sad. The filmmaker, self-professed “naturalist” Steve Kroschel, is deeply invested in the promise of his discovery, embracing its promotion as a lifelong cause. But like the gullible men and women whose testimonials he defers to as evidence, Kroschel mostly seems lonely — a recluse eager for a mission and the acolytes its attention inspires.
The susceptible will always gravitate toward the one who preaches the loudest; this is how cults are formed. As The Grounded musters its unqualified to relay a catalog of anecdotal mistruths, the way of life it advertises seems largely harmless.
But when it introduces legitimate authorities and grossly misrepresents them — as it does, gallingly, with David Suzuki, slyly made to seem as if he’s in agreement — the campaign turns toxic. That The Grounded lies is regrettable. That someone may believe it is scary.