In ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’, a decapitated baby reveals the ugly depths of Mormon extremism

A sensational adaptation of John Krakauer’s 2003 nonfiction book of the same name, Under the Banner of Heaven is the latest high profile miniseries that would have been better off as a two-hour feature film.

The seven-part FX drama series on Hulu (April 28) by writer/host Dustin Lance Black is the story based on true events about the 1984 investigation into the murder of a mother. Utah and her young daughter, and the ugly revelations about the Mormon church that followed. It’s tempting when it comes to the details of a religion’s culture, rituals, and dogma, but it’s not okay to talk about everything else. Even with Andrew Garfield as the detective tasked with solving this heinous crime, it was a wobbly stab to TV fame that never took a firm footing.

Under the Banner of HeavenHis tremors are noted right from the start, with quick footage capturing detective Jeb Pyre (Garfield) playing with his kids on the front lawn. He is called away from the fun to the home of Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones), who was brutally slaughtered and left to die in her kitchen. Worse still, her 15-month-old daughter was upstairs in her crib, beheaded — a sight that made Pyre spontaneously cry out in horror. Pyre is bewildered by the brutality of this carnage as well as by the fact that he comes across the Laffertys, who are members of his beloved LDS Church. Before Pyre can breathe, he’s thrown another round when Brenda’s husband Allen (Billy Howle) appears outside, covered in blood and claiming his innocence.

As a devout Mormon with a family of her own — two daughters with his wife Rebecca (Adelaide Clemens), as well as a dementia mother (Sandra Seacat) who lives with them — Pyre is well aware that school This case will be of great interest to the LDS Church. So his faith remains central throughout his investigation, especially as it also creates friction with his non-Mormon Native American counterpart Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham ). Their dynamics are difficult but admirable, though as with so many series it appears vague and half-hearted, as if a missing scene or two could more fully explain that. . However, they often work well together, and find in Allen a talkative widow who readily explains that the murder of his wife and daughter must have to do with the twisted inner workings of his clan. , known as the “Mormon Kennedys,” compared with some before years passed for insane extremism.

Krakauer’s book parallels the story of the Lafferty family (and the investigation into Brenda and her child’s death) with the history of Mormonism, and in particular, the violent and polygamous origins of the emerging religion by Joseph Smith. Under the Banner of Heaven similarly, but Black and director David Mackenzie (Hell or high water) and Courtney Hunt (Frozen river) try this at random intervals, so that there is no balance between their past and present actions. Furthermore, these flashbacks appear and disappear without any proper context, making them feel arbitrary and sketchy. Although Black wants to link the bloodshed that defines the origins of Mormonism to the massacre of Brenda and her child, the lines he draws are often crooked and unclear, thus undercut his larger portrait of the fanaticism that led to this disaster.

It didn’t take Pyre and Taba much digging to unearth a treasure of the mad saint. As Allen and others recount, the Laffertys are a family of genuine faith run by an authoritarian father (Christopher Heyerdahl) who demands complete obedience to the scriptures — and in particular, towards with the Mormon belief that women are docile, unruly housewives. This makes independent and career-oriented Brenda a dangerous black sheep, and puts her at odds with Allen’s brothers Samuel (Rory Culkin), Robin (Seth Numrich), Dan (Wyatt Russell), ) and Ron (Sam Worthington), the latter two become engaged in a battle to earn their father’s blessing as the next leader of the family. All of these characters soon became prime suspects, as well as characters capable of falling for the rigorous doctrine and accusations of Mormonism, which with its unique language (eg. for example, husbands were called “priesthood holders”, because they were the Christ figure of the family), secret ceremonies and sexist decrees regarding the keeping of women in the home. their obedience.

As Under the Banner of Heaven finally explains that Brenda’s death has to do with the Laffertys’ escalating relationship with fundamentalism (and their acceptance of polygamy and anti-government, anti-taxation). However, while it tackles many fascinating aspects of LDS life, the series falters when it comes to portraying the bigger picture of Laffertys’ long slide. Black’s story is frustratingly garbled, failing to achieve a consistent rhythm. Much of that was a consequence of his decision to remove some elements of Mormonism and leave other key points and motivations vague and confusing. It’s also, however, due to an onslaught of quickly fraught montages attempting to convey Pyre’s space, and his tormenting self-doubt over his own faith and those of the world. its evil foundation.

“Black’s story is uncomfortably cut, not in a consistent rhythm. Much of that was a consequence of his decision to remove some elements of Mormonism and leave other key points and motivations vague and confusing.”

Those hastily edited interior alternations were the venture’s biggest mistake, both because of their inactivity and because they hindered Garfield’s operations; instead of letting the actor express himself Pyre’s increasingly complex feelings about the case and his church, Under the Banner of Heaven do it for him often. As a result, Garfield’s turn becomes schematic and insightful, undermined by a formal approach to explaining things he should have been allowed to communicate on his own. Unfortunately, that omission is emblematic of the entire enterprise. There’s just too much packed into the series but still not enough, with Black and company devoting unwarranted attention to a series of detours and diversions that are sometimes just the end. , went nowhere and upset this love affair’s first criticism of the Mormon church as a 19th-century-style violent cult costume.

Therefore, one can imagine Under the Banner of Heaven more successful as a 10-part series with depth, or better yet, as a streamlined film without unnecessary junctures. As it stands, however, it’s a skewed view of the horrors of LDS whose impact is muted by its mess.

“Under the Banner of Heaven” premieres on Hulu April 28. In ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’, a decapitated baby reveals the ugly depths of Mormon extremism


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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