Eye For Film >> Movies >> Prophet's Prey (2014) Film Review
Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten
In 1890, the Church of the Latter-Day Saints renounced polygamy resulting in a schism and the establishment of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) (who maintained its commitment to polygamy), the hierarchy of which has been dominated by the Jeffs family in the contemporary period. Prophet's Prey concentrates on the rise and rule of Warren Jeffs - who several participants in the documentary suspect hastened his father's departure from this mortal coil in order to consolidate his control of the organisation and who is currently serving life plus 20 years for the sexual assault of two girls who he had claimed as his "spiritual wives".
Only educated to 8th grade (age 13 or 14) and kept in ignorance due to a ban on all worldly media, Jeffs' congregation have been indoctrinated to believe his dictum that "perfect obedience produces perfect faith". It isn't brainwashing because - as is pointed out within Amy Berg's film - this is a cultural mindset, where people don't know any different because they have been deliberately brought up in geographic isolation. Those who rebel or resist are cast out and stripped of their families and homes - fear is a powerful persuader if those you hold dear are included in the equation.
But in 2004, some of these "apostates" started speaking out publicly, which in turn opened the floodgates to other cast-outs coming forward with accusations of systematic abuse by Jeffs. Berg focuses on the efforts of two non-law enforcement men - private investigator Sam Brower and writer Jon Krakauer - who began digging into the FLDS's affairs and connecting the dots between events that crossed various state lines and jurisdictions, and the victims who came forward.
What Berg constructs is a multi-layered representation of their investigation. Although she unavoidably relies on talking head interviews - with Brower, Krakauer, various local-level law enforcement officers, and former members of the FLDS (including members of the Jeffs family) - interspersed with footage of Jeffs' legal deposition and chilling audio of his softly spoken but doom-laden edicts to the faithful. In crossing multiple state lines - the main complex in Short Creek was calculatedly built to bridge two states - Jeffs set out to make any possible investigations difficult, and the film details a number of setbacks and missed opportunities faced by the various agencies. The breakthrough was getting him placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted, although he then went underground and ceded control of the FLDS to his brother Lyle (although only for appearances sake - to all intents and purposes, Warren Jeffs is still the leader of the FLDS).
A fascinating but deeply disturbing film - as much for what it reveals about human nature as for the detailing of Jeffs' insidious actions - Prophet's Prey tells an open-ended story because the FLDS has now spread over national borders into Canada and Mexico, further entrenching itself in the isolated locations selected by Jeffs and operating in secrecy (with Jeffs pulling the strings from his prison cell). Aside from the concern for those children who still live in the compounds and Jeffs' missing wives (he had 90 wives and only two of them escaped - the whereabouts of the others is unknown), the possibility of Jeffs masterminding an act of mass bloodshed (either that of his followers or in confrontation with the authorities) hangs over the end of the film. But more positively, it is also a tale of dogged determination on the part of Brower and Krakauer who believe that there are still revelations to come about the machinations of Jeffs and his acolytes, and who persist in following the trails.Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2015