Directed By Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage
Starring – Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Olivia Colman
The Plot – Set deep in the wilds of Appalachia, where believers handle death-dealing snakes to prove themselves before God, Them That Follow tells the story of a pastor’s daughter (Englert) who holds a secret that threatens to tear her community apart.
Rated R for some disturbing violence
– A different breed of scares. “Them That Follow” doesn’t have a freak monster coming after its kind, nor does it have paranormal frights for the things that go bump in the night. Instead, this is a grounded film about the drastic measures taken in the form of religion when people practice it with dangerous uncertainty. Besides the cleansing of the wicked being done by these poisonous snakes, the movie is a haunting depiction of people dedicating themselves and their lives to a cause without any concrete evidence of its gospel being truth. In this regard, the film gave me an ominously haunting feeling throughout, which establishes a kind of breed in horror movies that are rarely seen; religious zealots. In this regard, it makes the story feel more surreal because these are everyday people positioning themselves in this way, and feeling so far off the beaten path of healthy mental capacity that they themselves almost look like the beasts that I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph.
– Alluring shot compositions. Coulton and Savage’s style requires a lot of intimacy when it comes to their character’s and unraveling predicaments, and thanks to a visual seduction in the form of these slow, methodical panning angles that replicate the pulse of the movie’s serpents full circle. The sequences with the snakes cleansing the wicked are easily my favorites, revolving around our protagonists like real magic is being displayed to rid them of the trouble that’s eating them from the inside, but I would be a failure not to mention the unabashed focus on facial resonation during each dynamic of storytelling exposition. Coulton and Savage make sure to document the fear that resides in every one of its congregation, so as to hint that these people know that they are literally dying for this expensive cause. It tells us more about them than any backstory ever could, and hints that the bond between them could be wider than the movie would like you to believe.
– Strong cast. While there’s nothing flashy or long-winded in dialogue about the performances of the talented cast here, there are still some dream scenario interactions, which really bring forth the committed work of three performances in particular. The first is my boy, Walton Goggins, who brings along the Boyd Crowder we know and love from television’s “Justified”, and turns it up to eleven as a preacher who feels menacing and dangerous without speaking loudly. Olivia Colman, fresh off of her Oscar win, is also noteworthy here, as a conflicted mother torn between the sides of right and wrong for the health and protection of her son. When things go crazy, that’s when Olivia is in her comfort zone, and through watery eyes and a tired facial resonation, we understand a woman who has faced many uphill climbs in her life. The lead, Alice Englert is also eye-opening, living for something she knows in her heart is wrong, but standing firm with enough love for her father to stay put. I really found her emoting of this character intriguing, and considering we see a majority of the film through her eyes, she is the film’s moral compass.
– Isolated setting. This duo of directors and screenwriters are wise enough to set this story far off in the woods of Ohio (Strangely enough), free from the help or watchful eye of the outside world. What this does is dessert this film with an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and dread from within these trusty walls, and leaves our central protagonist in particular feeling alienated from the religion she once adored so fondly. This not only further enhances the shot composition that I mentioned earlier, but also feeds into the sentiment that anything can and most likely will happen far from wandering eyes. It’s meaningful in the sense that visually communicates how alone these people are, and how far from reality this religion has left them stranded.
– Real, live-action props. This might not impress people as much as it did me, but in a day and age of filmmaking where every non-human creature is computer generated, along comes a movie that invests in the real thing, and further reminds us of its grave importance to the integrity of the scene. Not only did the actors in the film require ample training time in learning to handle these dangerous devils, but their fear and uncertainty as such adds a complexion to their performances and the scene that wouldn’t have been half as effective with a hollow property in tow. Even if they are de-venomized, snakes are every bit as predictable as anything on Earth, so to interact them with these very credible actors is something that pays respect to a lost age of filmmaking, where all of the magic was left on-screen.
– Tell not show. The biggest obstacle that audiences face in growing interested with this film is the best things seem to always be explained as happening off screen. This is fine for a movie once or twice, but when meaningful spins of the plots are engagements that we aren’t being privy to, it disjoints the audience into feeling like two films are being played out simultaneously, and the better one is somewhere off in the distance, beyond what we’re being offered. It becomes essentially frustrating midway through the second act, when we’re forced to piece things together based on character’s facial reactions to things being mentioned in passing. If you’re not fully tuned into this film, you will be lost immediately, and never recover because of my next problem.
– Weak pacing. I treat the opening scene of a movie as the welcome mat for everything you are about to engage in through the next 92 minutes, and in this regard “Them That Follow” never gets off the ground or lays enough scintillating bait at our feet to keep us anxious for the next scene. It doesn’t improve either, as the remainder of the film is every bit as sluggish as it is grounded in its storytelling. The film is simplistic to a fault, and never explores themes within a deeper meaning to open the eyes of audiences who saw this film come and by without ever elevating itself to something more suspenseful. Considering this did well at Cannes Film Festival, it explains everything that I despise about that particular festival, valuing anything different as long as it is different. The problem is that a film still needs to be entertaining, and this one simply wasn’t to me.
– Predictable. There’s nothing even remotely shocking or stirring about the events that played out, and the reason being because this film shows its hand far too often on things that could’ve been used to appal the audience or elevate its complete lack of tension. One example deals with a character who eventually loses a limb, with the parents explaining three scenes prior that, “He will be alright, but his arm won’t”. So for the next couple of scenes we are just kind of waiting around for the inevitable, and when the movie finally catches up, it’s less effective with its shocking visuals because we saw it coming for minutes prior.
– Lack of exposition within the religion. It’s strange that the film doesn’t dive too deep into the rules and lifestyles of this group in the woods, because I find it the single most intriguing aspect of this script. They are really depicted at face value, and we the audience are treated like a member of their congregation, that already knows everything from their pasts that have shaped who they are now front and center. It’s during important storytelling scenes like these when you get a true sense of the tragedy of lives wasted within this belief, but because the script leaves them as ambiguous as retail store mannequin’s, we never latch on to the urgency of their tribulations.
– The secret. So much of this film’s three act structure relies on this secret, that isn’t revealed until the final half hour of the movie, leaving very little meat on the bone beyond the idea itself. If I’m being honest, the secret itself isn’t that compelling or shocking compared to the things happening in the real world. I understand the point is that something from the outside world is being introduced to this sheltered community, but we the audience are from said outside world, so once we find out what is being hidden, the shock factor is totally lacking anything worthy of drawing it out for so long. It’s also inconsequential to the film’s closing moments, and left me wondering why or how this film got the huge positive reaction that it did coming out of Sundance Film Festival. This movie is an idea, nothing more.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+