‘Them That Follow’
Playing in the U.S. Dramatic competition of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 98 minutes. Next screenings: Friday, Feb. 1, 11:30 a.m., The MARC Theatre, Park City.
If only the plot of the Appalachia-based drama “Them That Follow” matched its atmosphere and its acting, as it depicts life in a tight-knit community bound by their religious faith — which involves snake handling.
Lemuel (Walton Goggins) is the pastor who brings out the rattlesnakes during services. Sometimes a member of the congregation will get bit, which is how Zeke (Jim Gaffigan) lost his thumb sometime back. But Zeke and his wife Rose (Olivia Colman) maintain their faith that God will cure anything, including snakebites.
Maura (Alice Englert), Lemuel’s daughter, has a bigger problem. While young buck Garret (Lewis Pullman) has asked Lemuel for Maura’s hand, Maura has deeper feelings for Augie (Thomas Mann), Rose and Zeke’s son, who has fallen away from the faith. Complicating this love triangle is the secret Maura is keeping: She’s carrying Augie’s baby.
The plot comes down to one question: Who’s going to find out Maura is pregnant, and in what order? Beyond that, there’s little suspense in what happens in the movie, even regarding the snakes, whose unpredictability is at the root of the faith.
Even when things get nasty and violent, it’s telegraphed well ahead of time. (Before one gruesome moment, at least half a dozen Sundance patrons had enough time to exit the theater before it happened.)
Directors Britt Poulson and Dan Madison Savage capture the small-town atmosphere, and the reverence for God and freedom, with pinpoint detail. The cast is compelling, particularly Goggins, who has this wild-eyed southern act down to perfection, and Colman, who glides past the easy stereotypes to which a true-believer character like this might fall prey.