“Them That Follow” is a movie about dangerous, slithering animals on a mountain.
The setting is small town Appalachia, where a tightly knit group of drab people belongs to the Holy Ghost church — Pentecostals who willingly take up venomous snakes to prove themselves before god. Their pastor, Lemuel, is played by Walton Goggins, who exploded onto the scene in 2010 on the terrific FX series “Justified” (in which he played Boyd Crowder, a criminal and con man who, in the opening episodes, pretended to be a preacher). It’s odd to see Goggins back at the pulpit, although this time he’s a seriously religious man, which means he believes all sorts of nonsense including faith healing and how handling poisonous snakes will demonstrate your devotion to god.
But the serpents are not the ones who pose the real danger. That comes from the townspeople who fall for this bullshit and raise their children to believe all of it, including the oppression of women. Mara (Alice Englert), the preacher’s daughter, has a secret that tears apart her life and others’. In a world where pre-marital sex is forbidden, and young women can’t choose who they love, she’s being forced into marriage with Garret (Lewis Pullman), the true-believer son of devout parents (Olivia Colman and Jim Gaffigan). The problem is that Mara has become pregnant by Augie (Thomas Mann), a non-believer who’s the real object of her devotion, and she can’t tell anyone, even her best friend Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever).
You can understand how this might be a problem. What I can’t understand is why anyone would want to sit through the ninety-eight minutes it takes writer/directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage to tell this story. The pacing is far too slow, the lighting is even darker than the story, and the cast of solid performers is wasted on characters I had no sympathy for whatsoever.
In real life, I’d hate to spend even five minutes with the ignorant religious nuts who are the truly dangerous animals slithering through “Them That Follow” — they won’t even take you to a doctor if you’re bitten by a snake, relying on totally useless prayer instead of medical science — and it wasn’t much fun observing them onscreen, either. To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, I’d let the motherfucking snakes stay right where they are, as long as I get off this motherfucking mountain.
I give “Them That Follow” a 2 out of 10. It’s likely to end up on my Worst Movies Of 2019 list.