In Them That Follow (2019), a girl is torn apart between her sense of duty toward a despot father and his religious congregation, and the love she has for an atheist boy.
In an ecstatic sign of belief, pastor Lemuel Childs (Walton Goggins) holds a venomous snake in his arms, and raises the reptile in awe. As if he draws energy from the hypnotized crowd, with hands raised up and the joyful rustling of their murmurs and prayers, pastor Childs delivers an inspiring speech. Yet despite his best efforts, there is one person whose own turmoil keeps her mind floating away from the religious harangue.
That is Lemuel’s daughter, Mara, who is also the protagonist of Them That Follow (2019).
What is Them That Follow (2019) about?
Mara, played by Alice Englert, is conflicted by her heart’s calling and her father’s expectations. The latter match-makes the girl with Garrett (Lewis Pullman), pastor’s right-hand in the church, as well as his partner-in-crime in other shady shenanigans. Mara’s heart, however, beats for another boy – an atheist Augie (Thomas Mann) – who also happens to be the father of the girl’s unborn child. Hence the directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage establish a conflict that distinguishes blinding faith and breaking out of its shackles against the father figure.
Peculiar is the way the filmmakers arrive at this crossroads for Mara. In the beginning, Them That Follow (2019) oozes a grimly dark atmosphere, which vibe-wise belongs to thriller, much more than melodrama. Poulton and Savage let the story move slowly however steadily, in order to meticulously paint the poisonous doctrine which earns Them That Follow (2019) its initial hook. Through Walton Goggin’s devilish antagonist, and Alice Englert’s subtlety in portraying Mara’s moral quandaries, Them That Follow (2019) hypnotizes and lures into its abyss.
Them That Follow (2019) is shot with confidence and passion
Much of that appeal derives from the way DP Brett Jutkiewicz filmed Them That Follow (2019).
Camera operates on short distance with the characters, thus creating a hermetic, closed-off atmosphere, almost as if the Appalachian community lived as independently as in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004). Most scenes are set against dark interiors, or in the woods, and that also gives plenty of space for Jutkiewicz and the directors to construct the thriller backbone for the story.
No matter how effective this machine is throughout the first half of Them That Follow (2019), Poulton and Savage dilute the thrills later on.
Predictable plot wastes the opportunity for a brooding thriller
Frankly, the story begins to safely check boxes in its second half, and embraces predictability dressed in eye-pleasing cinematography. The characters gain little depth, causing the cast to lose flair too. Walton Goggins spits God-inspired monologues, however he simply copies his own role from HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones (2019-), with less of an over-the-top attitude. Englert, on the other hand, delves into marasmus in order to arrive at her character’s obvious conclusion. Other actors struggle as well, given little to play with.
Those issues above stem from stale, melodramatic storytelling. Them That Follow (2019) never fulfills its promise on delivering a compelling personal drama of a girl staged by her malefic patriarch figure of a father, nor does it bring enough excitement to be called a full-bodied thriller.
The exploration of local folk is also lost between the lines, though the hissing of rattlesnakes and scenes when actors hold the reptiles had me shaken. But the proceedings in Them That Follow (2019) could make up for a novel, tempting dark tourism attraction, but not the gripping tale Poulton and Savage hinted at in the beginning.
Having such a talented cast on board – with Olivia Colman in her most “underused” role – Poulton and Savage should have really opted for a cross between American folk thriller and just a drop of coming-of-age drama. Since the balance favors the latter, Them That Follow (2019) fades away right after the credits roll in, joining the many Sundance darlings that the world will quickly forget.
Them That Follow (2019) – Culturally Hated or Loved?
Despite a talented cast, and the ability to serve effectively brooding images, filmmakers Brittany Poulton and Dan Madison Savage make too many safe choices and let their film slide into slow-paced melodrama.
Them That Follow (2019)
Hate Grade: 5/10
Directors: Brittany Poulton, Dan Madison Savage
Writers: Brittany Poulton, Dan Madison Savage
Starring: Alice Englert, Olivia Colman, Walton Goggins, Thomas Mann
Music: Garth Stevenson
Cinematography: Brett Jutkiewicz
Films like Them That Follow (2019):
- Red State (2012) – Kevin Smith’s bloody and quite timely story of an extreme cult which aims to cleanse the world of non-believers
- The Path (2018-) – a tv show about living inside a cult
- Leave No Trace (2018) – a warming story about a father and his daughters as they live in a vast park, far away from cities
- Top movies about occultism