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'Them That Follow' holds onto every breath

'Them That Follow' holds onto every breath

Wild Appalachia country holds its secrets. Writer-directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage dig at those secrets in Them That Follow, a captivating story of a young pastor’s daughter living in the mountains. Mara (Alice Englert) was raised by her father (Walton Goggins) to be faithful, subservient, and modest. She is all of those things, and yet underneath her floor length handmade dresses is a hidden truth eating at her. Poulton and Savage craft a brilliantly bloodcurdling tale of just how far Christian fundamentalism can go, and the strength necessary to confront its demons. (MTP: 5/5)

Review by FF2 Intern Maiya Pascouche

Being a young woman in poverty stricken Appalachia is hard enough as it is, but for Mara, it’s even more complicated. Since the death of her mother when Mara was little, she was raised solely by her father, the local pastor. Their household is strict, religious, and modest. She does the cooking, cleaning, and tending around the house while Lemuel meets with his fellow believers. Mara has a secret she hasn’t told anyone and it’s weighing on her every evening at church. She has reached the age where she has to decide who to marry, and, in doing so, sealing herself away in this town forever, believing what she’s always been told to believe.

A directorial debut for writing duo Poulton and Savage, Them That Follow is of the highest quality. The film begins with a whistle and builds to a cacophonous rattle, shaking the walls of the church that binds each member in their own way. The filmmakers treat each character with special care.  Mara and Lemuel’s relationship has depth which strays from the trope of misunderstanding father and rebellious daughter, and this subversion shifts audience’s sympathy from scene to scene.

Alongside fantastic main characters, what better supporting actress can you find than Olivia Colman as the community matriarch? Colman is stoic yet scared, sticking to the rigid values of her faith even to extremes, even when it puts her family in danger. She is the stubborn glue that holds the story together and an amazing actress who takes any challenge thrown at her. 

Marketed as a thriller, yet not like the one you would expect, each moment feels carefully laid out and allows for the incredibly slow burn expected from the thriller genre while maintaining its place in the drama category. Quiet moments build to anxiety-inducing reveals. What is so special about this hidden sect of Christianity? Why are there snakes wriggling around in almost every scene? Why are there secrets, and fears of action from the police? Poulton and Savage paint a clear picture of how far Christianity can go in a community isolated in the wilderness of Appalachia. Skin-crawling and tense, Them That Follow holds onto every breath and waits for the eventual panic before exhaling. It is dark, creepy, sad, and beautiful all at the same time.

© Maiya Pascouche (8/5/19) FF2 Media

Photos Courtesy of 1091 Media

Q: Does Them That Follow pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?

A: Minimally. There are a few scenes between Mara and Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever) discussing Dilly’s mother. Although it barely passes the test, the film does inquire very productively into Christian values and patriarchal norms.

2 Responses
  1. Your critique has piqued my curiosity. I want to know more. I want to know Mara and learn of her secret. Good job, Maiya!

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