Director Amy Berg’s documentary on the sexual, psychological, and financial exploitation at the core of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is grim but riveting viewing, a layered commentary on this country’s moral and spiritual underbelly.
Coming on the heels of the Duggar scandals, and both Kim Davis and Donald Trump galvanizing America’s right-wing religious base, the film’s sharp dissection of a religious leader who profited (and profits) handsomely from manipulating an ill-educated flock resonates beyond its bleak specifics. The film begins with a succinct history of the Mormon Church and its founder, Joseph Smith, quickly tracing the period of Brigham Young’s leadership and the breakaway faction FLDS, which refused to comply when the church renounced polygamy in 1890.
Fast-forward to elderly Rulon Jeffs, leader of FLDS, husband to 50 wives, and father of Warren Jeffs, around whom the sordid tale mainly unfolds — and who, it is speculated, may have killed his father in 2002, expediting Warren’s rise to power. Investigative reporter Sam Bower (whose book Prophets Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation Into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints inspired the film) is the linchpin of this story, walking viewers through hubs of FLDS activity, interviewing key figures (child brides; apostates; journalists), and filling in grim tales of pedophilia, child marriages, financial blackmail, and all manner of hypocrisy.
Prophet’s Prey is simultaneously enervating and infuriating. By using his own words (and chilling audio from one sexual encounter) to bracket dozens of testimonials and disturbing newsreels, it reveals Warren Jeffs, with his mousy looks, charmless manner, sociopathic wiring, and taste for young girls, as the embodiment of evil.
Directed by Amy Berg
Showtime Documentary Films
Opens September 18, IFC Center
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 15, 2015