Them That Follow

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Them That Follow
"In terms of mood, directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage do a lot with a little, allowing the plot to coil round the characters." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Olivia Colman's career continues to be nothing if not eclectic as she takes on the role of a God-fearing Appalachian mum in Them That Follow. She's one of the lynchpins of a small community who follow the preachings of pastor Lemuel (Walton Goggins) even though her son Augie (Thomas Mann) is straying from what she believes is the path.

Lemuel's church practise snake handling, adhering to the idea of Mark 16:18: "They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." The serpents in this case are rattlers, caught on the mountainside, which is captured in a permanent state of autumn by cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz, its fallen leaves providing the perfect hiding spot for the deadly snakes.

The story focuses on pastor's daughter Mara (Alice Englert), who finds herself between a rock and a venomous place thanks to an undisclosed romance with Augie and an impending marriage to Garret (Lewis Pullman), whose devotion to her is almost as fervent as his worship of God.

There have been studies that show we are born with an innate fear of snakes and anyone with a phobia will want to avoid. Even before we see them, the unsettling sound of the rattlers does not augur well for the future. After all, sinners must be tested. That sense of imminent threat hangs over much the film, although it's faith, not family which is in the dock. These are not inherently bad people, they care about one another - albeit within the constraints of their patriarchal set up - but they just happen to have put their faith in prayers above all else. If someone gets bitten then that's the Lord's will and the fact that He allowed a hospital to be built within driving distance doesn't mean the congregation should use it - especially since the local law enforcement are already poised to strike.

Once an early secret is revealed, the story has a predestined feel, largely because the characters remain underdeveloped, despite strong performances from an ensemble that also includes Kaitlyn Dever and Jim Gaffigan. Still, in terms of mood, directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage do a lot with a little, allowing the plot to coil round the characters. In the end, it's not just anything but everything that occurs in the film's final third, as violence and mayhem break out left right and centre, making for an enjoyable gallop of a finale.

Reviewed on: 01 Feb 2019
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Inside a snake-handling church deep in Appalachia, a forbidden relationship forces a pastor’s daughter to confront her community’s deadly tradition.

Festivals:

Sundance 2019

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