‘Them That Follow’ Movie Review
Snakes... Why’d It Have to Be Snakes?
Them That Follow is about a deep-South Pentecostal snake-handling church. When a secret love affair results in Mara (Alice Englert), daughter of pastor Lemuel (Walton Goggins), becoming pregnant, she must try to hide it from the rest of their community, especially considering that the baby’s father (Thomas Mann) had abandoned the church years ago, much to the chagrin of his parents (Olivia Coleman and Jim Gaffigan).
The reason I chose to review this one on the site is that, while Them That Follow isn’t technically a horror film, it is practically a horror film. It is, after all, about a cult that practices potentially fatal rituals. It’s also shot and scored like a horror film, so I decided to sort of grandfather it in. Because, make no mistake, this movie is intense as hell (pun somewhat intended). The snake scenes, alone, feel like they could be taken from a horror movie, almost reminiscent of Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, even having a similarly secluded and primitive setting. This added element of isolation really upped the tension.
Walton Goggins is one of my favorite current character actors, and as usual, he knocks it out of the park as the community’s patriarch/ultimate religious authority. Goggins is originally from Alabama, so he was definitely able to bring some authenticity to the role. His manic energy and seething intensity are both incredibly effective, and in my opinion, he really carries the movie. Olivia Coleman (fresh off her Oscar win) is also as wonderful as ever, having to play the stern, conflicted mother who has to show varying degrees of gentleness, concern, and at times, menace. I was also really impressed by Jim Gaffigan’s dramatic abilities. His character was entirely humorless, which is rather unexpected from Gaffigan, and he pulls it off rather remarkably. Mara, arguably the main character, is also a pretty complex role. Alice Englert is not an actress with whom I was previously acquainted, but she does a solid job. This does, however, bring me to the film’s one major flaw: Englert’s Southern accent is abysmal. I’ve lived in the South for my entire life, so I’m a pretty good judge for Southern dialects, and hers was really bad. Even Olivia Coleman had a few accent gaffs, which was a bit disappointing. But other than that recurring annoyance, all of the acting is quite good.
The portrayal of religious fanaticism, and its tendency to exploit people’s fears, in Them That Follow is chilling and all too real. Like I said, I was born and raised in the South, so I’m no stranger to extremist, right-wing Christianity. While this particular brand of said extremism was not the denomination with which I was most commonly acquainted, I am quite familiar with the same type of willful ignorance and refusal to progress. It’s an insidious, yet brilliant, system; you hold people’s emotions hostage by making them so afraid of damnation that they bend to your every will, because they are convinced that it is, in fact, God’s will. It’s nothing short of disgusting, and the film understands that dynamic well.
Them That Follow is a tense, often unsettling drama, sometimes bordering on horror. It understands the disturbing nature of Southern religious extremism, and pulls no punches in its portrayal. And a truly haunting score, an isolated setting, and yet another stunning performance from Walton Goggins help to create a sense of pure dread that lasts up until the very end.