"SONS OF PERDITION" — ★★★ — Directed by Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten; R (language and drug use); Tower Theater
The title "Sons of Perdition" appears with a voice saying, "Oh, young people, eternity is within your reach if you will just live faithfully so the Prophet can place you properly in marriage. I want you to believe these stories — there are no monogamists in heaven."
The voice is FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, setting the stage for the story of three boys who leave — or are expelled — from the polygamist community of Colorado City, known by the locals as "the Crick."
Directors Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Mertin document the two-year odyssey of Sam, Bruce and Joe as they leave their homes, families and religion to enter a loosely connected underground network of exiled kids centered in St. George. Assured by Jeffs that they are now condemned to hell in the afterlife, the boys have newfound freedoms, temptations, liabilities of age and limited options — all mixed with loneliness and anger. They find themselves dealing with a taste of hell on earth.
Bruce, 15, talks at length about "Warren" breaking up his family. Now, he wants to move on but can't attend school without documentation and parental approval.
Joe talks constantly about the physical abuse at the hands of his father. He's committed to saving his mom and sisters from "The Crick." The filmmakers document the various attempts — some so pathetic it breaks your heart, especially when derailed by intimidation, threats and religious harangues.
Sam, who has training in carpentry, tries his hand at framing, but other opportunities are limited. He can't even join the Army because of a restraining order from dear old Dad.
We find the boys gravitating to the home of Jeremy Johnson — a wealthy software designer — who, along with his wife, has tried to provide a sanctuary for exiled kids. But even big-hearted Jeremy hits his limit when he becomes alarmed by behavior and randomly conducts a drug test. Each boy tests positive. While still willing to help, their protector indicates it's time to move on.
"Sons of Perdition" doesn't leave out the "daughters of perdition." They, too, are condemned to hell. The first taste of freedom combined with guilt and loneliness produce similar challenges for the girls, but with the additional baggage of an indoctrinated submissiveness to males. Add to that marriage at a very tender age, sexual activity and the children who are sadly used to coerce rebellious females into staying at "The Crick."
A moderate effort is made to differentiate the FLDS from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Early in the movie, a rudimentary, very brief history is offered on the 1890 Manifesto bringing an official end to polygamy in the LDS Church. Without wasting much footage, it's explained that this caused some to break away from mainstream Mormonism, including the group that settled Short Creek — later to become Colorado City.
There is an unfortunate, almost random drop-in from Jon Krakauer, author of "Under the Banner of Heaven," that does little to enlighten and seems to be included primarily for star power. Krakauer liberally uses the term "Mormon" in describing the influence and power of "the Prophet" from 1830 to today and into the future — never pointing out that he is talking about very separate and very different entities.
"Sons of Perdition" is an intriguing film that requires undivided attention. It's easy to get lost and confused in the maze of convoluted relationships; to say they intertwine is a gross understatement. For those who have never visited these communities, the movie offers an up-close and personal view. The boys at one point actually take us on a drive, pointing out sites and landmarks, talking about memories of better times and bemoaning that Warren Jeffs has turned their religion into a cult. Be aware that these kids don't sugarcoat their thoughts, and the language is stiff.
As the two-year documentary draws to a conclusion, we again hear the monotone voice of Jeffs lamenting the "deep cuts in my heart when I see any of the young people of this Priesthood leave; they're on a different level than the world. ... They were offered so much."
As the credits roll, the future is very much in doubt for the boys and the women who finally do leave Colorado City.
"Sons of Perdition" is rated R for language and drug use; running time: 85 minutes.