Our young heroes include seventeen-year-old Sam, who sports hair doused with peroxide. He has a complicated feelings toward his father (near the beginning of the film he muses that he was assaulted out fatherly love). His lively cousin is fifteen-year-old Bruce, a loveable goofball. Joe, also 17 and also a fan of outrageous hair color, is the most serious of the three, with a deep voice that belies his skinny frame.
They’ve escaped Colorado City, Arizona, where the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints all reside. This fringe group of Mormons broke off from the mainline church in 1890, when the LDS outlawed polygamy. To fundamentalists, polygamy is still a God-given mandate, and their leader Warren Jeffs is the ultimate human authority regarding who should marry whom. Men take multiple wives (some of them barely teenagers), who have several children, and the children are taught to be obedient sons and daughters. The kids receive education in religion and math, but they have little knowledge of the outside world—at one point, Joe confuses Bill Clinton for Adolf Hitler.
Getting their public figures mixed up is the least of the boys’ problems, however. As much as they enjoy their newfound freedom, their biggest struggle is not being around the families they’ve left behind. Each one talks about missing their brothers and sisters, and all of them try to find other families to replace what they had. But Joe also makes multiple attempts to get his mother and younger sister out of the FLDS community. His father intervenes every time, making each liberation attempt more suspenseful than the last. Although you only see his mother and sister in a handful of scenes, you root for them harder every time.
If Joe’s family are the invisible protagonists, then Jeffs is their villainous, invisible counterpart. He only makes his appearances by way of photograph and eerily soothing recordings of his sermons. But his influence can also be strongly felt by what’s not said: When the boys talk about spirituality, they focus more on their previous fears of going to hell than they do on God. For them, the spiritual has been filtered through a very power-hungry and ungodlike individual.
Luckily, Sons of Perdition does end on a happy note, with Jeffs being arrested during the filming and the boys each finding themselves among family again. With the drama of their old lives settled, the boys are free to move on to writing happier stories for themselves—ones not haunted by ghosts of the past.