A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
Documentary filmmaking has a habit of reminding us of a truth that many would like to ignore: monsters are very real. As children, we’re told by our parents that boogeymen don’t exist and that most people are inherently good. Both of these things are true, but we often convince ourselves that true evil is something of fiction. “Prophet’s Prey,” the latest documentary from Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”), reminds us that there is unimaginable horror in this world, often perpetrated in the name of religion and under the banner of salvation. The film opens in limited release today, September 18th, before a Showtime premiere on October 10th. It is harrowing and stomach-turning. While I wish the form of the film wasn’t quite so talking-head—“then this happened”—the story is so compelling and terrifying that it’s hard to place too much cinematic flourish on top of it. It speaks for itself. And what it says is scarier than any horror film this year.
Sam Brower is a private detective who spent much of his life trying to bring the horror of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to light. It’s chronicled in “Prophet’s Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints,” the main basis for this film, although Berg also works heavily from Jon Krakauer’s excellent “Under the Banner of Heaven” (a book you really should read, along with his “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air.”). In fact, Brower and Krakauer approached Berg with the idea to make the film, and both appear regularly in “Prophet’s Prey,” as leading experts on the saga of Warren Jeffs, his dozens of “wives,” and the damage a self-proclaimed prophet perpetrated on hundreds of people, including his own relatives.
Warren Jeffs was the son of Rulon Jeffs, another self-proclaimed prophet and the leader of the FLDS. The film argues that as the senior Jeffs was nearly on his deathbed, Warren worked his way into the position of rightful heir. In 2002, he became “President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator” of the FLDS. While Rulon Jeffs may have committed unspeakable crimes himself (he may have had 75 wives and 65 children when he passed, and many of his wives were underage), “Prey” makes the case that the evil of the father was amplified in the son. Even before his father passed away, Warren was using his position in the church to rape young girls in the name of religion.
Warren Jeffs took his power a step further than his pedophilia, ruining the lives of anyone who dared challenge him. Within his institution, he had the power to “re-assign” wives—as if they were cattle moving from one barn to another—and would break up the homes of anyone who dared call into question his relationship with a higher being, one who regularly spoke through him. His almighty oversight of a compound of his followers made him invincible, until the government took notice.
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