‘Them That Follow’ Review: Hiss of Death

“Them That Follow” opens, rather pointedly, on a nest of snakes before introducing the tiny Pentecostal sect in the Appalachians where the serpents star in religious ceremonies. For the group’s women, though, venomous rattlers aren’t the only caution: Forbidden the freedom to choose their own husbands, these cowed-looking souls seem compelled to obey men and God with equal subservience.

Admirably acted yet emotionally blank, this first feature from Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage focuses unrelentingly on drab people leading miserably isolated lives. Their pastor (Walton Goggins) dutifully speaks in tongues and casts out demons, his fire-breathing sermons their only entertainment. There’s no apparent joy, however, in all this zealotry, just a daily grind of drudgery and extreme devotion.

By way of drama, a too-familiar predicament emerges as the passive pastor’s daughter, Mara (Alice Englert), prepares to wed the deceptively meek Garret (Lewis Pullman) after dallying too recklessly with a nonbeliever, Augie (Thomas Mann). When a hymen check by Augie’s mother (a formidable Olivia Colman) confirms the worst, the stage is set for a tragedy that’s simultaneously repellent and sadly uninvolving. We learn so little about these characters or the forces that shaped them that we’re never drawn into their drearily blinkered world.

In a statement in the publicity notes, the filmmakers say they hope to demystify this “misunderstood religion.” Yet seeing the horrific lengths these folks were driven to by their faith only made me, for one, more mystified than ever.

Them That Follow

Rated R for one scary reptile and brutally extreme parenting. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes.

Them That Follow

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