MOVIE: THEM THAT FOLLOW
STARRING: WALTON GOGGINS; ALICE ENGLERT; THOMAS MANN; OLIVIA COLMAN
DIRECTED BY: BRITT POULTON; DAN MADISON SAVAGE
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
I often watch a movie that places the audiences gaze on the “wackiness” of religion and always remind myself, that if you study it enough, one could argue that every religion is wacky. Them That Follow is a family drama, and a good example of how the beliefs of some, can be the downfall of many. Writers & director's Britt Poulton and Daniel Madison Savage, have collected a strong cast of actors, and got me quite riled up, because I can't stand how people can do heinous acts to people they say they “love”, all in the name of their “lord”. That's the plot in Them That Follow, where Walton Goggins stars as Lemuel, a preacher in the back woods of West Virginia, who uses snakes in his sermons to prove his faith to God, which of course puts a massive strain on his relationship with his daughter Mara (Alice Englert). Them That Follow is an intense and emotional look at religion tearing families apart, one snake at a time.
On the surface, Them That Follow is a movie about religious zealots, forcing their beliefs onto family members. Underneath, this is a love story, in the vein of Romeo & Juliet. Mara (Englert) is a devout believer in her faith. Saying her prayers before each meal. Wearing clothing that looks like it was plucked from a puritans wardrobe. Raising her hands up high and wailing at the words her father speaks on the alter. Another member of the congregation is Hope (Olivia Colman) and her husband Zeke (Jim Gaffigan). Missing from the church is their son Augie (Thomas Mann), who stopped believing in all the snake charming long ago, and is also secretly dating Mara. The other major problem is that Mara is being fixed for marriage with Garret (Lewis Pullman) and with the watchful eye of her father always upon her, things become worse before they get better.
What I enjoyed most about Them That Follow is how it is a collective cast, working together as a community, where many secrets begin to break out. The casting alone of Goggins as the wide eyed, bellowing preacher is a role born for him. Coleman also does a nice job blending in as a southern woman, obeying to what her religion is teaching her and sacrificing her own families happiness in order to stay true to herself. I also quite enjoyed seeing the outrageous ceremonies with poisonous snakes. To be honest, that might be the reason why anyone would want to see this movie, but it is the metaphor of humans acting like snakes that keeps the drama tense. It is the constant build up that Poulton and Savage string along, with Mara forced to be a “provider” and literally wash her husbands feet, bubbling to an ending that audiences will feel more than vindicated with in the end.
The messaging of Them That Follow is not a condemning of those that believe, but a condemning of religion being used as a weapon. I have always felt that people should be able to practice any faith they see fit to their happiness. That is not the action at hand in this movie and more than ever today. I think many people seem to forget that free will exists. It is that freewill that Mara and Augie have, which seems to infringe on Lemuel's life. His character is as wicked as the snakes he holds in his hands. Where Them That Follow goes may be predictable to some, but it helps when you have a cast of actors committed to the material.
On a smaller scale, Them That Follow reminded me of the preaching scenes in There Will Be Blood or Robert Duvall in The Apostle. Those movies may be easy comparisons, but cinema that does a good job reveals the complexity of humans, and their ability to believe in something so powerful that it blinds them to reality. This will always be something that continues to draw audiences. Religion is a powerful, scary force, wether it involves snakes or spirits. It is rooted deep into the soil, like a shot of venom to the arm, Them That Follow is one of the more fascinating movies of 2019.
Written by: Leo Brady