Prophet's Prey: NZFF Review
"Evil flourishes when good men do nothing."
Director Amy Berg's last foray into the New Zealand International Film Festival was something of a triumphant affair, as the screenings of West of Memphis clearly demonstrated.
Her latest, a doco into the behaviour of the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, Warren Jeffs is anything but uplifiting, another demonstration of how America chooses to let its zealots flourish under the guise of religion.
Deeply unsettling and utterly terrifying, this brilliantly taut doco pulls together the portrait of a man whose drive to serve his skewed take on the word of God has ravaged lives, abused children and torn his family apart - and yet, he serves time currently in jail, but depressingly, his power continues to grow.
Using testimony from Jeffs' victims, his family and a series of investigators aiming to get to the truth, Berg uses the desolation of mid-Western countryside shots where Jeffs and his community thrive, mixed in with floatingly haunting voiceovers of Jeffs' indoctrination to paint a picture on a horrifying canvas.
Every victim of the church (and thankfully, few are used sparingly throughout) help build a portrait of a man who any sensible outsider could see is abusing his power and brainwashing. But to those inside his thrall, it's equally easy to see why Jeffs would be able to manipulate the women through polygamy, overthrow his church-leading father by crafting a series of insidious lies and create a presence that got him on the America's Top 10 most wanted list.
But it's Berg who deserves the praise here, not a man whose perversion of life continues to trouble long after the film has finished.
Crafting together a doco that's distinctly balanced and meticulously down the line, she once again demonstrates, like West of Memphis, how the American legal system is failing. Despite testimony from Jeffs' victims and a careful building of a case against Jeffs, it's the ineptitude of their prey that helps him fall foul. With the spectre of Waco carefully evoked and the reverberations of that showdown still lingering, Berg uses education and prompts a natural reaction to achieve her goal. It's clear she wishes to enlighten us to the horrors within, but a final coda depresses greatly and proves to be a rallying cry to arms once again for the American justice system to come to the party.
Prophet's Prey will hold you in its sway throughout - it's deeply troubling, completely unsettling and thanks to Berg's eye for story-telling, it's sickeningly riveting.