Them That Follow Falls Flat but Considers an Important American Health Care Problem

Them that Follow is a film that lacks great substance in narrative but still manages to make important commentary on the contemporary American political problem of obscure religious groups obscuring progress.

Snakes. Faith. Strange Realities that belie the world of faith in a traditionally “Christian God.” Them that Follow has been called everything from an “overwrought soap opera” to an “agonizing slow burn.” It’s certainly a provocative tale, even as it fails to be as engaging as it might be if it built any characters in depth and explored the massive problem that is faith-based groups preventing the development of a sufficient national hospital system or insurace in the U.S.

A group of adherents to an obscure sect of pentecostalism that considers handling snakes without being bitten a measure of faith instead of a dangerous Biblical literalism fails to keep a single vial of antivenom on hand to save their children from being poisoned to death or keep the police off their tail. Raids are common.

A young woman assumed virginal fails her mandated hymen check before marriage to a man her father has hand selected because of his adherence to the sect’s principles, while a rebellious son of two church members has trysted with her often enough to result in an unplanned pregnancy. Them that Follow is a simple drama with simple motives that unfold quickly.

Is this a period piece? It seems like it, but it’s hard to tell. Every element in this film seems terribly dated to 1980 or before — but attitudes on how men should treat women and how they might obey seem to be placed in an age even older for anyone who might view a film in a contemporary audience.

Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Alice Englert, Jim Gaffigan, Walton Goggins and Thomas Mann star in this overemotional rationalism-driven dramatic parable concerning the American relationship between religion and the denial of healthcare.

Director/Writer team Britt Poulton & Dan Madison Savage bring a voice to Them that Follow that is overly reliant on a clinical sense of skepticism without full cultural examination of the community it impacts in a film that only manages to be lackluster.

Them that Follow, nonetheless, leverages this important voice that speaks to the necessity of elements of reason and question to reach secluded patriarchal Biblical literalist communist communities, which was a presence greatly appreciated at the 13th Annual Dallas International Film Festival.

One of Them That Follow’s few redeeming qualities in pure filmmaking alone is its driving soundtrack which merges realistic sound with excellently scored sonic elements that drive fear directly into the heart of the viewer.

Cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz’s use of flat, vibrant color and tight, confined shots depict rural, Appalachian life for the mundane reality it is for many of its participants.

Character development beyond the two major dynamic players portrayed excellently by Alice Englert and Olivia Colman is not even a tertiary concern in this thrilling drama that leaves the viewer hungry for critical thought, which is a convention necessary to consider in the present American rural or Appalachian milleu.

At present, in the U.S., an astounding number of medical interventions results in malpractice, even in established cities with a “good number” of hospitals, making intervention, itself, the third suspected leading cause of U.S. death, perhaps the second, if all documentation in coroners offices were explored correctly. This is most likely due to the concrete cause of a lack of hospitals and clinician overwork than anything else — as opposed to lack of “faith.” This situation is most felt in rural American outposts with little to no clinic access, where “faith” often seems more effective than reason.

Antivenom (if it can be obtained in said hospital) is the best treatment for snakebite — but it’s important to note that most “healing religions” in the U.S. would advise adherents to avoid poisons and situations that tempt fate altogether — and to institute a National Health System or Insurance that didn’t penalize them for personal nonparticipation. They do not desire fundamentalism this strong. It’s really the few factions that do have this stranglehold on American Governance at the state level that must be stopped.

There’s also much to be said for abortion providers and interfaith marriages that allow for freethought. It’s all a bit incredulous to be a contemporary or even late mid-century situation in any area of the country — though it is still very much the case in some rural outposts as politicians actively fight to roll back the clock of progress to meet fundamentalist principles.

In leveraging this incredulity, Them That Follow is a film that grips the viewer with stunning visuals and superb acting, but fails to examine secluded literalist Pentecostal religious communities and their faith practices with sufficient enough of a humanist or even an accurate lens, though it does manage to place fundamentalism and patriarchy square in their place in a driving narrative with one sole mission. It arrives a bit flat, but becomes available on Jun 21, 2019 in select theaters.