True Crime Docuseries Review: Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey

 If you know the name Warren Jeffs, you may have an instant reaction of disgust in your stomach or perhaps become overwhelmed with a furious rage.  Jeffs is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), an offshoot of the Mormon church that split from the main body. In 1904, the church abandoned polygamy, and the fundamentalists refused to give it up.  Warren took over as prophet of the FLDS after the death of his father, Rulon.

The four part Netflix docuseries, Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey, walks through the timeline of the church and investigates the rise and abuse of power by Warren.  While for me personally there is a lot to disagree with how the FLDS operated, it reached a level of absolute perversion once Jeffs took over. No longer was it just about polygamy, it was a complete restriction of women's rights, and about wielding power through giving young women as wives to the people who supported Jeffs.  They became a commodity, and, over time, they began being married at younger and younger ages.  While he is still considered 'the prophet' by those who remained in the FLDS, to myself and others he is a monstrous sexual predatory who raped and trafficked underaged girls and women.

The breadth of interviews mostly consist of people who are no longer members of the church.  Some escaped, some were kicked out, but all were willing to be completely open and honest about their experiences no matter how they may be perceived by audiences.  This is a level of vulnerability and honesty that guides the narrative and provides a particular window into the FLDS that can escape the news clippings and headlines.

The young generation of members illustrate just how much control Warren Jeffs exercised, and how all of the teachings they were subjected to warped their minds into compliance.  Thankfully, there were some people who were working very hard to expose what was happening within the FLDS, and eventually their efforts paid off.  However, after Jeffs was arrested in 2006 he continued to run the church from prison, and still runs it today.

The power of his coercion is clearly shown in Keep Sweet.  The fact that thousands of people still view him as 'the prophet' and not a cult leader, even after his acts and convictions, illustrates how he was able to deify himself to his followers.

The tales of the women who stood up against the actions of the church are incredible and display a great level of strength within, a level that I doubt I could muster.  Not only would the women be told who they would marry and at what age, but they could also be 'reassigned' to another man if their husband died or was kicked out of the church.  If you went against Jeffs, you could also loose your children, with him instantly reassigning them to a different family.  This level of power allowed him to keep a lot of his followers in line.

There are no reenactments in the conventional sense, but there are recreations of life within the FLDS.  These play more like home video footage than the standard use of the technique to be the focal point of dramatization efforts.  These scenes are not the focus, and just function as visuals played in the background while the main emphasis is strictly on what the talking heads are saying.

It is needed to be mentioned that a lot of this is disturbing.  I knew a lot of the story of Warren Jeffs before watching Keep Sweet, and I thought this would keep me safe from the worst of the emotions that could be conjured up.  It did not.  Especially in the fourth episode, which begins with a warning about some of the material.  This didn't end up being a misery dump of evidence of horrific crimes, and there were only brief audio clips and quick shots of pictures.  I cannot express just how saddening and disturbing these few bits of material were.  It was agony walking through the truth of Jeffs' crimes, and any viewer needs to be warned of this.

Will I recommend Keep Sweet: Prey and Obey?  Absolutely.  It is a very important piece that reminds us of how predators work, and how they are able to manipulate those around them.  Would I watch it again?  Absolutely not.  I've walked that dark path once, and once was enough.  This docuseries lays in the same vault of other works that, while extremely necessary to inform humanity, are not about entertainment, but about making sure we do not forget our horrible mistakes.

Rating - 3.5 out of 4 stars