|'Sons of Perdition,' 3 stars|
By Bill Goodykoontz|
Things to Do / Movies
The Arizona Republic
"Sons of Perdition" goes only partway toward shining a light on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormon offshoot sect that for a time was led by the notorious Warren Jeffs.
Which is a shame, because what's here is compelling, if occasionally hard to follow.
Telling its story through younger members of the church as they attempt to break away and leave Colorado City (they call it "the Crick") in far-northwestern Arizona, the documentary relies heavily on assumed knowledge about Jeffs, the FLDS leader whose Utah conviction on two counts of being an accomplice to rape were overturned in 2010. The film begins and ends with recorded speeches by Jeffs (he awaits trial in Arizona), espousing the benefits - the requirements, for his followers - of polygamy. We see the effects on the sheltered, naive kids let loose in nearby St. George, Utah; despite their hatred of Jeffs, they clearly have a hard time cutting ties with the FLDS community completely.
Small wonder: With large families at the center of their lives, they miss their parents and siblings. Yet they had felt trapped and manipulated, and wanted out. They know little of the outside world, to the extent that Joe Broadbent, one of the boys who escapes, briefly confuses Bill Clinton with Adolf Hitler. His sister Suzanne can't name the capital of the U.S.
It's hard not to be reminded of reality TV, particularly in the way that directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten shoot their footage, such as scenes in which a software millionaire allows those who have left the FDLS to live in his home. The setting, as well as the direction, is almost distractingly reminiscent of such shows as "The Surreal Life." It's surreal, too. Finally away from the constraints of their former lives, the young people, perhaps predictably, go too far with their newfound freedoms.
But the Crick is never far from their minds; one drinking binge leads to a young woman, who left her family and four (!) children behind, lying on the floor screaming and crying. Whenever she drinks, it's explained, memories of her former life come flooding back.
There also are sequences in which other members of the FLDS escape - evidently with the help of Measom and Merten. The night-vision lenses they use are not nearly as disturbing as the later appearance of the menacing husband of one woman who has made her break or the scene in which a mother fights the surrender of her daughter to a sheriff's deputy as she tries to leave the community.
But what's missing here, in addition to a more strongly realized story line, is the nature of Jeffs' appeal. Certainly, he sounds creepy on the recordings we hear, but how did he establish his power over his followers (and does he maintain it in prison)? Although the kids - and they are kids - are interesting, and ultimately heartbreaking, you want to know more about what went into the creation of the community. How can this happen, you may be yelling at the screen by the time it's done.
That's not the film Measom and Merten made, however. But it's hard not to wish that they had.
Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@ariz onarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/ GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: twitter.com/goodyk.
Originally published Feb. 24, 2011
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