Them that Follow takes a close look at some of the more nefarious aspects of religious devotion. Written and directed by both Britt Poulson and Dan Madison Savage, they carefully and craftily delve into the world of a Pentecostal sect located in the remote setting of the Appalachian mountains. The followers of the religion look to snakes for judgement and shun scientific notions such as hospitals and modern medicine. The film is marketed as a drama/thriller, but this is not really how the movie plays out. While it is highly dramatic, it is lacking in the thriller aspect. That is not to say the film is lacking in tension and suspense.
Story pacing and the film score do an excellent job of creating a foreboding atmosphere. The score by Garth Stevenson creates an ominous strain through scenes that will keep the viewer on edge through tranquil scenes. Interesting things are done with sound. Music will roar and suddenly there will be silence save for the rattling and hissing of a snake. These elements create a heightened sense of pressure and danger feels imminent, but the payoff is so subtle that all the tension building feels anticlimactic.
This is in no part any fault of the actors. Walton Goggins and Olivia Colman are the driving force behind the emotion of this film. Goggins and Colman are tremendous actors and they deliver passionate and raw performances. Goggins plays the pastor or leader of the religion Lemuel Childs and Olivia Colman plays a born again devout follower Sister Hope Slaughter. Jim Gaffigan gives a wonderful performance torn between love for his outcast son and his religion.
Mara, the pastor’s daughter, played by Alice Englert and Dilly, played by Kaitlyn Dever are the young girls of the community. Again, they are extremely talented actors, but there are several issues that impact the girls that are lacking in exploration. The tension is set up, but again, the danger is easily averted.
One of the main points of contention in the film is the snake handling. Lemuel places snakes on members of the congregation. If the snake bites the patron, the patron is judged as needing forgiveness. One must pray to be saved from the poison. The issue lies that medical attention is usually needed in this event. Throughout the film, it is alluded that the pastor has run into trouble with the law about this issue before. The pastor speaks in tongues and is shown praying over sick disciples. All the while, the belief is that true believers will be saved. This is a dangerous game. Poulson and Savage take an introspective look at questions of faith and bravery.
Overall, the storytelling is great for what it does for character development and setting. The problem lies within the story itself. The viewer is set up for a thriller, but what remains is more of an eeriness and discomfort. It’s a slow burn that fizzles out before leaving much of an impression. However, the acting brings the characters to life in a way that will haunt audiences.