I just finished watching the documentary Prophet’s Prey and I have to say that it’s one of the creepiest things that I’ve ever seen in my life. As our regular readers know, I love horror movies but, in many ways, Prophet’s Prey is scarier than even the most effective horror film. Prophet’s Prey is frightening because it’s true.
Prophet’s Prey is about the secretive Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a group that is best known for its practice of polygamy. The Presidents of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs, has been convicted of two counts of child sexual assault and is currently serving a life sentence. This documentary suggests that Warren Jeffs (who is estimated to have close to 70 wives) is still controlling the FLDS from behind bars.
Warren Jeffs’s voice is heard throughout the film. He recorded his sermons, the majority of which appeared to be about the importance of obeying his authority, and we hear excerpts of them throughout the film. What’s especially striking is that Warren Jeffs does not sound the way that we would expect him to. After hearing about how powerful he is and how the members of the FLDS continue to defend and follow him, we expect to hear a voice full of charisma and insidious power. Instead, the sermons are delivered in a flat monotone and the utter banality of his voice makes them all the more creepy. It’s the same monotone that we hear when a tape is played of Jeffs praying and then having sex with a 12 year-old that he’s just married.
We also hear a few excerpts of Warren Jeffs at his arraignment. His response to nearly every question is to softly reply, “Fifth amendment.” Even when asked if he has any remorse about his crimes, he replies, “Fifth amendment.”
We also see footage of Warren Jeffs in jail. We watches as he wanders around his tiny cell and occasionally tries to get some sleep. And again, the thing that strikes us is how ordinary and boring he looks. If you ever needed proof of the banality of evil, Warren Jeffs would appear to be that proof.
How, we wonder, did this seemingly dull and uncharismatic man become one of the biggest (and, some would say, most dangerous) cult leaders in America?
The film searches for an answer and suggests that Warren Jeffs’s power over his followers has less to do with Warren and more to do with the culture in which they were raised. The film’s best moments come when the filmmakers drive through the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hilldale, Utah. These towns served as the headquarters of the FLDS. Cameras line the roads, keeping track of strangers driving past the modest and identical houses. The people who live in town watch the cars pass with unsmiling expressions. Soon, the camera crew realize that they are being followed by another car. At one point, a member of Jeffs’s security force pulls them over and asks what they’re done before taking their pictures. With mountains rising high in the background and the blue sky seeming to go on forever, Colorado City and Hilldale seem like the most isolated places in the world.
Because it covers so much material and comes to so many disturbing conclusions, Prophet’s Prey can be an exhausting film. Along with detailing the life and crimes of Warren Jeffs, the film also details the larger history and culture of the FLDS. It makes for fascinating and disturbing history and it all ends with the ominous reminder that Warren Jeffs is still leading his group from prison.
Pair Prophet’s Prey with Going Clear for an anti-cult double feature.