Them That Follow

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Them That Follow
dir-scr Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage
prd Bradley Gallo, Michael A Helfant, Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Danielle Robinson
with Alice Englert, Thomas Mann, Walton Goggins, Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Lewis Pullman, Jim Gaffigan, Annie Tedesco, Erik Andrews, Catherine Albers, Katherine DeBoer, Brooks Roseberry
release US 2.Aug.19,
UK 22.Nov.19
19/US 1h38

mann goggins colman

There's a hushed earnestness to this dark, thoughtful drama set among people who blindly believe in something they perhaps suspect isn't quite right. And at the centre, this is a striking portrait of a young woman grappling on her own with an issue she has never been prepared to deal with. It's also beautifully written and directed, even if the understatement resists delivering a proper punch.
In rural Appalachia, Pastor Lemuel (Goggins) leads a congregation where members handle deadly snakes to show their faithfulness to God. His daughter Mara (Englert) is getting ready for her wedding to Garret (Pullman). But her nervousness relates to her connection with the rebellious Augie (Mann), son of local shop owner Hope (Colman), a devout believer. Garret is a good guy, but Mara has a secret she's afraid to share with anyone. Where this goes is fraught with tension, as events take various turns and everyone fights against their beliefs.
The rules these people live under feel relentless, from the expectation to attend church services to regulations on food, clothing and time management. The tension is strong, mainly because the characters are unsure what's true and what's false: they only know what they've been told. This makes the snake-handling scenes unnervingly freaky. And the layers of interaction between the characters are direct and delusional at the same time, often as genuine thoughts and feelings are suppressed.

Englert gives a strikingly internalised performance, barely telling anyone what she thinks or feels. Some more observant people work out what she's hiding, spiritualising things to the point where she's pushed into yet another corner. Mann's Augie is nicely played as a serious young man with a mind of his own. And Pullman's Garret is such a straight arrow that his hints of emotion feel explosive. Messier and much more interesting are Colman's earthy, unpredictable honesty and Goggins' suggestion that Lemuel's religion is more about hope than faith.

While there's a driving intensity that holds this film together, it's so serious that the earnestness often begins to feel somewhat dull. The love story at the heart of the film is fascinating, but it's almost entirely off-screen, only seen through unspoken feelings. Later on, the truth begin to comes out, unravelling the fabric that holds these people together. Because they've been bottled up, the instincts these people have are seriously ugly. They may call this cleansing, but it's downright evil.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Nov.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall