Them That Follow

The Plot:

Mara (Alice Englert) is the daughter of fundamentalist preacher Lemuel (Walton Goggins).

She loves Augie (Thomas Mann) but follows her spiritual path accepting Garrett’s (Lewis Pullman) proposal.

When Mara learns that she is pregnant, a love triangle creates a dangerous situation – forcing Mara, her father and the community to make hard choices.

Kent's Take:

“Them That Follow” is a quiet, beautifully filmed love story within the framework of religious zealotry.

Set in a poor Fundamentalist snake handling Appalachian Community ruled by religious law rather than societal law, Pastor Lemuel’s words hold gravity within this village.

Mara struggles with her heart and soul. Should she follow the feelings for Augie that course through her or listen to her father and the community’s old world teachings?

This well written, well-directed film is not anti-religious. The strict religious sect is simply used to set up a powerful influence upon a young woman and community. It also allows viewers to easily root for the heroine, Mara, as she wrestles with her doubt.

This is a Romeo and Juliet except it’s not between the Capulets and the Montagues, but instead between believers and non-believers. The dichotomies between power vs. truth, religion vs. corruption, morals vs. morality seep into this story as poison into a blood stream.

Writers/directors Britt Poulton & Dan Madison Savage expertly build tension as the smoldering power of religion is used as a wedge to separate two lovers.

The performances are strong as subtlety and pensiveness combine with Appalachian beauty and poverty to lever a weight of menace throughout this story.

The simplicity and frailty of life as well as the force of love polish this story, ultimately offering a tentative hope that strengthens the narrative.

“Them That Follow” is a small movie with big results – inviting viewers, like parishioners into an experience for the soul. Yet that experience is one of lies, deceit and ultimately a certain salvation.

Lynn's Take:

Grim and gripping, “Them That Follow” tackles extreme religion in a melodramatic love triangle story.

This first feature from co-directors and co-writers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage features an outstanding cast – including this year’s Best Actress, Olivia Colman, who does a complete 180-degree turn as devout Hope, a woman who believes prayer is the answer to everything.

Hope’s husband is the comedian Jim Gaffigan, who plays it straight, and her son Augie is Thomas Mann, of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” The great character actor Walton Goggins is Pastor Lemuel Childs, the isolated community’s spiritual leader, all fire and brimstone. He’s a widow raising his only child, Mara (Alice Englert). She’s going to wed Garret (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill), with friend Dilly, played by the versatile Kaitlyn Dever.

While some struggle with the hillbilly accent, they attempt to be as authentic to the culture as they can. Their strength is the best thing about this unusual tale. I wish they had meatier parts to dig into, as the screenwriting pair could have developed the roles more – and explained some of the more puzzling aspects.

Yet, we do catch the drift. And it’s horrifying. Barbaric, even.

There really is a religion with serpent handlers driving out the devil. This poor, struggling community clings to their faith and each other, just trying to get through the day.

Most of the 98 minutes is not a pleasant endeavor, as there are a few gruesome scenes, but overall, this dark Sundance-stamped indie gives young rising stars an opportunity to shine.

Englert, daughter of Oscar-winning screenwriter Jane Campion, establishes herself as one to watch – even though she has been in “Beautiful Creatures” and “Ginger and Rosa.”

The film peers into a little-known religion with a fervor that keeps our attention, and at times, on the edge of our seat.