Indie writer and directors Brittany Poulton and Daniel Savage come together for their feature debut Them That Follow, a religious thriller set deep in the Appalachian Mountains. Pastor Lemuel Childs (Walton Goggins) is a revered snake-handler at the heart of the close-knit community’s church, but the story focuses predominantly on Mara (Alice Englert), his repressed yet beloved daughter. She’s engaged to marry local lad Garret (Lewis Pullman) but is carrying a controversial secret that forces her to question her faith.
There’s a bleak, old-fashioned style to the narrative that is complimented by the slow and steady pace to which it unfolds. Tension builds effectively in a preachy claptrap plot that is so insular and backwards that it’s often frustrating to watch. Olivia Colman and Walton Goggins deliver weighty turns that elevate the piece; the former bringing her usual emotional strength to pivotal scenes and the latter providing unhinged menace to his character’s warped vision. With lesser performers, the material could lean towards soapy melodrama, but the strong cast provides dramatic payoff to the ponderous storytelling.
Poulton and Savage’s collaboration is technically well crafted and undoubtedly well-acted, but even with the Oscar-winning Olivia Colman in its corner on fine fighting form, the venomous Them That Follow isn’t quite a cult classic.