You’ve seen the headlines, you’ve heard the myths; this is the real, unfiltered, behind-the-scenes view of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and its leader/prophet Warren Jeffs.
Director Amy Berg (Deliver Us From Evil), together with Sam Bower, the author of the book by the same name, and Jon Krakauer, author of Under the Banner of Heaven, gains stunning access to those who were once part of the FLDS Church and the places in which unspeakable evil was perpetrated on the most innocent among us: children.
Starting with Jeffs’ childhood, the film takes a chronological approach to Jeffs’ rise through the FLDS Church, culminating in his self-made assertion that he was a “prophet, seer, and revelator” upon his father (and former FLDS prophet) Rulon’s death in 2002.
Immediately upon usurping power, Jeffs proceeded to marry nearly all of his father’s widows (about 20 surviving wives out of about 75 total) and instituted the types of nonsensical, iron-fist changes one would expect from a new and inexperienced leader attempting to assert his authority. It gained him unearned blind obedience, allowing him to convince his flock to max out their credit cards in cash advances, resulting in a fortune of $100 million that resided in a trust that he controlled.
His long history of sexual abuse of both minor girls and boys grew lengthier and his behavior exponentially more flagrant. With the sole priesthood authority to perform marriages among the flock, he presided over the marrying-off (and almost instant resulting pregnancies) of girls as young as twelve-years-old. Finally, in 2006, after mounting accusations and legal claims, he was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, and was caught just months later. He is now serving a life term in federal prison.
This film is not for the faint-of-heart; one can hardly stomach it all without feeling queasy. Indeed, the revelations unfold quickly and unrelentingly, leaving little room to breathe and lingering thoughts about the limits of human psychopathology. (The answer: there are none.) It’s yet another testament to the tireless work of local and federal officials, former members of the FLDS Church, and many others (including the members of the trial juries) in capturing this most evil of predators. Their perseverance, patience, and long-suffering for the grossly obscene and shocking are much appreciated.
The access to prison video, in which Jeffs’ admits that he is not (and has never been) a prophet of God, and audio recordings from federal court (in which Jeffs publicly consummates his marriage to a fourteen-year-old girl in a perverse, ritualistic religious ceremony) are coups for the director, though her use of the latter is highly-questionable and, some would say, downright unethical, exploitive, and likely emotionally-damaging to the victim.
Though Jeffs sits in prison, it provides little comfort to learn that this has endeared him even more to his followers, whom he has convinced of their persecution, and which they take as evidence of their obvious chosen place among God’s people. We clearly have only seen the tip of the iceberg, and the cycle is bound to repeat itself.
Prophet’s Prey is screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Premieres category and was financed by Showtime, which will screen the film later this year.
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