Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Amy Berg
Written by: Amy Berg
Starring: Sam Brower, Nick Cave, Andrew Chatwin, Ross Chatwin, Brent Jeffs, Craig Foster & Janetta Jessop
2015 seems to be the year of amazing and angry documentaries. First, we had the once-in-a-lifetime doc THE JINX (which actually led to its subject being arrested before it finished airing). Then, the curtains were ripped open to reveal everything you’ve wanted to know but never been able to find out about Scientology in GOING CLEAR. Now, we have PROPHET’S PREY which examines Warren Jeffs and the troubling cult (not a religion, let’s be honest) that is the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints). Infuriating on the same level of GOING CLEAR, but for entirely different reasons, PROPHET’S PREY is an intense doc that’s sure to make your blood boil.
Warren Jeffs went from being a prophet in the FLDS community to a fugitive on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. This documentary goes from Warren’s beginnings (including the mysterious death of his father) to his rise as a corrupt leader (molesting an unknown number of children) to his ultimate downfall (he’s now serving more than a lifetime in prison). Besides shining a true-crime lens onto Jeffs, director Amy Berg takes side turns to look at the shady practices of the FLDS church. These include: business dealings (bleeding our economy and child labor), their otherworldly isolation (moving between state borders), and troubling practices within the church (women and children essentially being equated to currency within the community).
This documentary tries to be two different things at once. First and foremost, it’s a look at Warren Jeffs’s life and heinous crimes. Jeffs is essentially painted as a power-hungry psychopath from the first frame and all the evidence shows that to be true. One interesting bit sees how Warren Jeffs set up his position of power before his father had even passed away. We get little recordings of Jeffs interspersed through transition shots and I was unnerved every single time I head this predator’s calm, almost sedated, voice. Though this goes to a disturbing new level when we get a piece of audio that this film could have done without, but gives evidence to Warren Jeffs not being a simple megalomaniac with a god complex. Instead, he’s a far more sinister and reserved monster.
The second thing that this documentary tries to do is rip the curtains open and expose the ugly truths of the FLDS church. Here, it’s marginally less successful, because there’s just so much material that Berg can work with. She seems to have bitten off a little more than she can chew in certain spots. I wanted to know more about vague things that are brought up (corrupt judges and law enforcement in the FLDS’s pocket, documented child labor, and fines that remain unpaid to this day). There are also eerie similarities between the FLDS and Scientology regarding their stance on breaking up families (parents choosing religion over their own children) and their attitude regarding outsiders who step a little too close to the truth. The latter isn’t nearly as extreme as Scientology’s “fair game” tactics, but bits of footage reveal a hostile attitude nonetheless.
The interviews in PROPHET’S PREY are especially revealing. Though many faces appear, three distinctly stood out to me. Brent Jeffs (Warren’s nephew and one of his victims) is remarkably candid and relates some heartbreaking pieces of information regarding how Warren would get away with his crimes in plain sight. Janetta Jessop’s (one of Warren’s unwilling wives) screen time is equally heartbreaking as she reveals what a monster he was to those around him and how her family treated her. I love all of the interviews featuring Sam Brower. This investigator is just a plain bad-ass and his obsession over Jeffs’ case ultimately led to the lunatic’s downfall.
PROPHET’S PREY asks some chilling questions that don’t have easy answers. Why are people so drawn into radical communities? Why is unwavering faith paid to lunatic leaders who seem to get sick pleasure out of causing other people pain? Why is someone like Warren Jeffs allowed to exist and thrive for so long? Do we have a possible next Waco or Jim Jones on our hands? The latter is brought up a few times and one can see a realistic scenario where things might head that way. At any rate, PROPHET’S PREY is an amazing documentary that examines a lunatic and his unquestioning followers.