Set deep in the wilds of Appalachia, where believers handle death-dealing snakes to prove themselves before God, Them That Follow tells the story of a pastor's daughter who holds a secret that threatens to tear her community apart.
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Deep in Appalachia, Pastor Lemuel Childs "Walton Goggins" presides over an isolated community of serpent handlers, an obscure sect of Pentecostals who willingly take up venomous snakes to prove themselves before God. As his devoted daughter, Mara "Alice Englert" prepares for her wedding day, under the watchful eye of Hope Slaughter (Olivia Colman), a dangerous secret is unearthed and she is forced to confront the deadly tradition of her father's church.
A gripping, visceral movie with great empathy for its characters
Them that follow starts off as quiet movie, almost a social study of a rural, religious community in the US hinterlands. But right from the beginning you can feel, that there is something dark brooding under the soil of this fragile community. And sure enough, the tension breaks at the end into a visceral finale. When the movie almost turns into body horror, you find yourself at the edge of your seat, begging the characters would stop with their gruesome actions. And while you want to look away, you realize that you just can't. This movie already has gone into your veins like the poison of the rattlesnakes, that play such a prominent role in this community drama.
Them that follow portraits the coming-of-age of Mara, the pastor's daughter in a religious community, that seems estranged from civilization. Her father and his religious followers practise an equally strange and dangerous version of christian belief. During the service they deal with deadly poisonous snakes, that they collect in the woods. By handling the snakes, the worshippers put their live in God's hands, with the promise that all sins may be forgiven, if you survive the encounter with the reptiles.
Mara does not question this behaviour and her own faith, until she becomes engaged with a young man from the village, while secretly loving another. This love triangle leads to unchristian behaviour and, sure enough, the snakes come into play. Mara finds herself into a position, where she must challenge her own belief to save the man she loves.
I saw Them that Follow at South-by-Southwest 2019, not knowing anything about this movie. And I have to say, by the end I was fully gripped. The story, which is based on existing snake handler communities, unfolds slowly, but is rip-roaring at the end. The performances from the young actors are very good and you believe in the relationship of the characters. But it is Olivia Colman and Walter Goggins who stand out in the great cast. It is them, who give this people a heart and soul, by portraying as real people, who care deeply about their loved-ones. They are religious fanatics, but they are not insane. Their actions come from, well, good faith and they have the best intentions for the people, who are close to them. That you feel empathy for these characters is credit to the fabolous actors and the good direction of directors and screenwriters Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage. Both have personal experiences with fringe religious groups.
Them that follow is an indie-surprise. It is heartfelt, gripping and willing to pull some necessary punches to deliver it's story. Worth a watch!
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