The actors are fighting their demons, but the movie feels like shedded snake skin.
The only religious movies I prefer to dish on are ones from the past like “The Ten Commandments” or “Ben-Hur,” ones that look like they have their hearts in the right places like “Heaven Is For Real” or “Breakthrough,” and artisan masterpieces like “Doubt” or “First Reformed.”
In spite of some sincere performances, “Them That Follow” is a religious artisan film that never seems to take off. The tone and narrative is rather bland and dry, thus leaving me uninterested.
You have actors like Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Thomas Mann, Olivia Coleman, and Jim Gaffigan in very good performances, while some like Kaitlyn Dever and Lewis Pullman aren’t all that believable. This is a glass-half-empty-half-full situation I find myself in.
Our story takes place in a snake-handling church in Appalachia, run by Pastor Lemuel Childs (Goggins), and the main protagonist is his daughter Mara (Englert), who is engaged to Garret (Pullman), a favorite of the church. She’s not in love with him, but Augie (Mann), an ex-church-goer, who knocks her up.
The only other people who knows about her secret pregnancy both Augie and his mother (Olivia Coleman). And things begin to spin out of control for both families, when the boy is given the snake test by the pastor, and becomes bitten by it.
Englert is natural actress, who delves into her character’s motives, and eases her emotions. I’ve also seen her in “Beautiful Creatures” and “Ginger and Rosa,” and though I’ve gained little memory about them, I do see radiance in her.
Goggins is bold as her father in the ways he brings out the Lord’s prayers, and simmers down the sins he comes across. I was reminded of either Daniel Day Lewis or Paul Dano in “There Will Be Blood.”
Mann gives one of his most memorable performances (ranking with “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), and the scenes when he struggles to fight the snake venom in his arm clinches it.
And Coleman delivers the goods as the boy’s mother, because of how she processes the turmoil around her character. She even changes her religious views during her son’s dark times. The acting doesn’t exceed her Oscar-winning performance in “The Favourite,” but it’s still real enough for me.
Pullman was fine in the box office bomb “Bad Times at the El Royale,” but he never seems to grab my attention as the main heroine’s intended. He’s just plain standard. And despite the fact that Dever has outdone herself with “Short Term 12” and “Booksmart,” she really isn’t all that interesting.
“Them That Follow,” the directorial debut of writers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, only works with the superb performances and snake and prayer sequences, but it appears to be mostly dull with the tone and consistency. I wanted a drama with pure sins, and not just a summary. The actors and characters know what they’re doing, and I praise them for that, but the lacks the sins and temptations of some of the best religious movies of all time.