Them That Follow
Starring Alice Englert, Olivia Colman, Walton Goggins, Kaitlyn Dever, Lewis Pullman, Thomas Mann, Jim Gaffigan,
Them That Follow is not a horror movie, but you wouldn’t know that from the marketing and especially the poster which features a snake wrapped about lead actress Alice Englert neck. To the films credit, the subject matter is quite horrific. Religious fanaticism set in the backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains, finds an all-star cast to fill out the disturbing set of characters. The best among them, 2019 best actress winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite), increases the value of the entire film so much you can almost forgive it’s writing flaws. Them That Follow oversells itself a bit in genre territory, leaving viewers a little disappointed that the most disturbing sequence in the movie is a snake bite. A lack of confidence here in the direction from duo Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage will hopefully grow with a few more films under their belt.
Pastor Lemuel (Goggins) has raised his daughter Mara (Englert) in the same way he tends to his flock, instilling the fear of God in every conversation. Secluded away from the nearest town or community, the small group of followers meet in a barn to read the Bible and use serpents (rattle snakes in this part of the country), to carry out Gods will. If the snake bites at member of the church, they only use prayer as medicine. God will either answer their prayers or punish the victim with death. Mara and another young follower Garret (Pullman) are supposed to be married, he wants nothing more. Mara is a believer but has fallen for Augie (Mann), one of the few unbeliever’s on the remote mountain. Augie’s parents Hope (Colman) and Zeke (Gaffigan), leaders in the community, turn on him when they learn of his transgressions with the preachers daughter.
While a story of fiction, the events in the story stay grounded enough to imagine this particular group of people exist on the fringe of society.
The script doesn’t give the audience a clear picture of what exactly this group believes. We know they believe Satan is in everything from love, asthma, and governing law, yet these followers drink alcohol, curse and abide co-habitation among the non-married. The first act of the movie doesn’t give the audience enough background information on this borderline cult. The fate of the film rests with the cast, who is thankfully quite impressive. Each scene with Colman is either bitterly stern or filled with so much emotion, water pours from her eyes, a master of believable crying. The coincidence of a Korean cult leader landing six years in prison this week in the news, only adds authenticity to the story Savage and Poulton were trying to tell.
There isn’t much of a climax in the film, compounding the disappointment those expecting elements of horror or even heightened suspense. While a story of fiction, the events in the story stay grounded enough to imagine this particular group of people exist on the fringe of society. Goggins (Tomb Raider) is ideally cast as the ring leader, while fans of Dever (Booksmart) might expect more than her supporting performance. Englert is the lead but also the least known of the group. She drives the story with conviction, but never achieves her standout moment. Them That Follow is good for what it is, which might simply, not be enough. It’s message of finding your way out of a suppressive society, whether that be religion or otherwise, is heard loud and clear.
Oscar winner Colman stands out among controversial subject matter that struggles against weak execution.