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Simon Read [Celluloid 07.06.19] horror

Slightly stodgy drama/thriller from co-writer-directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, concerning hysterical snake-handling Pentecostal Christians in Appalachia, the main draw being the presence of recent Oscar winner Olivia Colman. Alice Allegra Englert plays Mara, a young woman torn between loyalty to her bonkers pastor father (Walton Goggins) and love for her former beau, Augie (Thomas Mann), a non-believer. Colman plays Augie's mother, a local busybody, and although top-billed, essentially provides a supporting role.

The film ploughs a fairly well-worn furrow, that of the innocent caught between religion and reason. Mara is emotionally blackmailed into marrying a local believer named Garret (Lewis Pullman), a 'good man' whose intentions seem noble, but mask deep insecurities. She tries to forget Augie, but finds herself returning to him in secret. Her father discovers this betrayal and insists Mara prove her devotion both to her husband and to her faith.

The film contains the standard tropes of its kind: bogus faith healing, speaking in tongues, quaking. Plus a bunch of tense family dinners in which nobody speaks and the clock ticks on the mantelpiece. Performances across the board are solid, with Goggins delivering a particularly intense turn, but the film feels achingly familiar. Scenes in which characters handle venomous snakes as part of the church’s spiritual rituals contain suspense - if bitten they will not be provided medical treatment, rather simply allowed to die - but again it feels like we've been here before. Characters mumble homespun platitudes in gruff Southern drawl while espousing the importance of family and Jesus, arguments erupt, Ol' Pappy gets hooched-up on moonshine, the shotgun is snatched up from the gun rack, etc. It all feels rather pat.

Them That Follow is not a 'bad' film per se. It is cliched, at times downright predictable, but its intention is to tell a story, and that is what it does. Its major flaw is that the story doesn't take us anywhere new or do anything we can't second-guess. It's a shame, since the talent is in place, it is well-directed and acted, and the writing is functional if uninspired.

In the end it's another in a long line of films about backwoods religious folks and their baffling antics. Colman's presence aside (she is as good as we'd expect) the film is probably of limited interest outside of the U.S.
Let's make America quake again.

Recommended Release: HIsss


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