By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
I was introduced to Jon Krakauer via his death defying true stories of mountaineering, one of which inspired the recent film Everest, in which he’s a character.
Well, you can defy Death, but doesn’t mean he ain’t gonna get ya.
I was thrown a bit when I got to his book Under the Banner of Heaven, though, which examined Mormon offshoot polygamist communities in the West. I bring this up because, like the book, Prophet’s Prey shows Everest ain’t got nothing on cult leaders like Warren Steed Jeffs for providing harsh, inhuman environments to desperately escape from.
Prophet’s Prey gets really bad, really fast. Warren Steed Jeffs is a monster of incredible proportions, a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, a False Prophet, the kind of man the Old Testament God would have struck dead the minute he tried to invoke His Name. The man just sounds like evil incarnate, soft sursurring voice perverting God’s words to enable the worst sins.
The film also focuses on the investigation to capture and then prosecute a man who once sat alongside Osama Bin Laden and Whitey Bulger as one of the FBI’s Most Wanted and even then somehow spent years bouncing around the American West, gobbling up real estate and building huge developments to purportedly escape the apocalypse and definitely escape the law. It beggars belief that somebody within these United States can last so long hiding in ostentatious sight. That’s the power of true believers, alright.
It’s still a big place.
Documentarian Amy Berg marshals plenty of well-deployed resources as always, and makes the stunning point by the end that a Life Sentence and many of his former flock coming out to weepingly describe how he very literally raped them has not lessened Jeff’s hold on his flock.
Berg’s footage of the man standing in place in his jail cell for hours staring at something no one else can see, or pictures of him kissing 12 year olds on the mouth… no horror director could conceive of anything creepier than this real-life Slender Man. Her having Nick Cave reading from his sermons in both a peerless imitation and an unholy cadence was a final inspired touch to keep your skin crawling for hours afterwards.
Perhaps unsurprising, Berg is able to secure no opposing viewpoints, even though she clearly tries, even visiting Jeffs in prison and giving him a forum. This can’t help but make the film feel incomplete.
As is Berg’s wont, she also gets a little on the nose with her stylistic choices for no reason, particularly with her musical cues. “Blowin’ in the Wind” can probably be retired in film at this point.
Prophet’s Prey is more horrifying than anything Hollywood or maybe even 2016 itself brought us last year. If Warren Jeffs isn’t a demon, he’s doing a damn fine impression.
Prophet’s Prey (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every mention of polygamy
Take a Drink: whenever Warren’s voice makes your skin crawl
Take a Drink: for accusations of rape and molestation
Take a Drink: for each move to escape the law
Take a Drink: for courtroom testimony
Do a Shot: to stem the urge to vomit