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Prophet’s Prey | 2015 Sundance Film Festival Review

False Prophet Illuminated by Berg and Former Prey

Ironically premiering at Sundance, not too far from the lieu where the real life events occurred, Prophet’s Prey is based on the book of the same namesake penned by Sam Brower (who is an integral figure in the documentary). An investigation into the enigmatic Warren Jeffs of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, this follows his opaque beginnings and ultimately his downfall, though his power of influence remains strong even behind bars. Having explored similar subjects with Deliver Us From Evil and An Open Secret, Amy Berg continues to shed light on the cycle of abuse affects and continues to perpetrate. And though the documentary embodies the eerie and sickening behind-the-scenes truths surrounding Jeffs’ reign, it offers little to no supplementary insight to a man whose actions fall from human decency and understanding.

Bestowed with a sense of entitlement over those deeply entrenched in a fire and brimstone mentality, Jeffs succeeds his father’s role, becoming the “Prophet” and leader of the FLDS Church. With a community thoroughly brainwashed by his father’s influence, Jeffs was easily able to transfer the power and command, exemplified by his decision to marry his father’s multiple wives. According to witnesses and opposing forces, Jeffs perpetrated their fears and carried out his sexual trespasses behind the facade of religion. Like a creator of a virtual Sims community, he would threaten and redistribute families (especially if he felt threatened by other patriarchs). He further isolated the community by banning pets, dancing, literature, swimming, etc. Women were clothed in similar Puritan dresses and hairstyles to where the individual was no longer distinguishable. Those who followed him simply did not know any better.

Former wife #63 (one of the only who were able to escape) mentions that one of the ways she defied his rule was by wearing the forbidden color red. Ironically, when Jeffs was captured after being added onto the FBI’s list of Most Wanted (only after Bin Laden), he was found driving a red car. Even behind bars, his followers continue to hang onto his every word, believing instead that his imprisonment is a test instead of an act of justice–showing just the extent of how mesmerized they are by their false prophet.

Berg utilizes her ability to create tension and sensationalism within a well-compressed documentary. Prophet’s Prey depicts the eerie cult sensation, illustrating that the line between religious fervor and exploitation is next to nonexistent. The hollow monotone narration of Jeffs’ own sermons chills, sends home the greatest understatement: Warren Jeffs is a creep. Berg does not shy away from utilizing the most spine-tingling moment: a pre-recorded tape between Jeffs and a child during intercourse plays over a blank screen.

The docu is uncomfortable and dramatic, much like its subject matter. It also unsatisfyingly skims the surface of Jeffs’ own upbringing and rise and instead focuses on his capture and aftermath. Ultimately it does not answer any questions that arise or add to anything that could not be gleaned from a quick internet search. Despite its lack, it asks the most important questions of all: just how far is Jeffs’ reach and how far is he willing to go?

Reviewed on January 26th at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival – Documentary Premieres

★★★ /☆☆☆☆☆

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