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With: Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Olivia Colman, Thomas Mann, Kaitlyn Dever, Lewis Pullman, Jim Gaffigan
Written by: Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage
Directed by: Britt Poulton, Dan Madison Savage
MPAA Rating: R for some disturbing violence
Running Time: 98
Date: 08/01/2019

Them That Follow (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Snake Eyes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Starting with a promising setting and characters, this drama quickly disappoints as it turns into an ordinary story of romantic teen angst, avoiding any kind of cultural exploration or understanding.

In Them That Follow, Mara (Alice Englert) lives deep in Appalachia, the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher, Lemuel (Walton Goggins). Their religion involves handling dangerous rattlesnakes as proof of their devotion. Mara is betrothed to the seemingly decent Garret (Lewis Pullman), but discovers that she is pregnant. The father is Augie (Thomas Mann), who doesn't subscribe to the local religion and for whom Mara still has strong feelings.

On the eve of Mara's wedding, Augie's mother Hope (Olivia Colman) discovers her secret. Then, when Augie tries to prove himself to Mara by handling a snake in church, he is bitten and lies dying. With everything hanging in the balance, Mara must decide what's most important.

A feature directing debut for the team of Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, Them That Follow had a chance to get inside a community that might seem alien to most viewers, but instead it keeps them at arm's distance. Their religion seems more like ignorance and intolerance as they regard the people of the outside word as "sheep," and claim that "God is on our side." Not to mention that Goggins is downright scary in his role as the preacher.

And so the focus becomes Mara and her troubles, which are recycled straight out of any old soap opera. The movie tries to generates sympathy for her by showing how she's pushed around by the men in her life. It attempts to get us to root for her independence, but also for some kind of romantic fulfillment.

It's a one-sided, wishy-washy movie, set in constant hand-held overcast grayness. Not even Kaitlyn Dever (so charming in Booksmart), who plays Mara's best friend, and is onscreen for long segments, seems to actually do anything, nor does comedian Jim Gaffigan, as one of the true believers in the flock.

Lionsgate released the movie on DVD only (no Blu-ray). Bonuses include interviews with Englert, Goggins, and Mann (about 15 minutes total), and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.

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