Written and directed by first-time feature directors Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, Them That Follow is a drama/horror/thriller with an all-star cast, among which the name of Olivia Colman, fresh of winning the well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress.
The story is simple, here, and yet it has potential: Mara (Alice Englert), the daughter of pastor Lemuel (Walton Goggins), is torn between two men. She’s in love with Augie (Thomas Mann), a young man who refuses to join the cult Mara’s father and the community have embraced, and Garret (Lewis Pullman), a devoted member of the community and its cultist beliefs. Mara loves Augie, but their relationship can’t be accepted by the community, and she doesn’t love Garret, but her father would like her to marry him. Tension escalates when Mara gets pregnant outside of marriage – which is against the rules of their religion – and still decides to take Garret as her husband: this causes a spiral of violence and hard-hitting confrontations.
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Whenever there isn’t a point of reference for a film – as in, the filmmakers didn’t do anything before – I generally adapt my expectations based on the actors involved and the trailer for the film itself. Them That Follow definitely benefits from a good, mysterious trailer and some great performances that should come as no surprise given the talent of the actors involved.
As one might expect, Olivia Colman steals the show as Hope, member of the religious community and Augie’s mother. She’s able to perfectly convey the emotions a woman, torn between her belief and the love for her son, would feel. Walton Goggins as the pastor of this little but vicious cult proves once again to be a great character-actor: his performance isn’t particularly multi-layered, but he perfectly communicates what his character is supposed to represent. Thomas Mann and Lewis Pullman’s acting is solid and very effective as well. Kaitlyn Dever plays Dilly, Mara’s best friend, and proves one more time to be one of the most interesting and talented young actors working in Hollywood. Last but not least, Alice Englert surprises quite a bit in a leading role that requires a lot from her: throughout most of the film, her acting is truly restrained but she’s still able to deliver every subtle emotion her character is going through.
Had it not been for the perfect casting choices and the performances, though, Them That Follow would be very forgettable and dull. In fact, this is unfortunately one of the rare cases where the film comes out bland and uninspired, despite the talent in front of the camera and a core idea that could lead to all kinds of crazy scenarios.
The main issue with this film is its lack of tone. Them That Follow fails at being a drama, because the way the storyline is explored feels unoriginal and formulated; it fails as a horror movie, since there isn’t any tension, unsettling or scary moments in the entire picture, aside from maybe one sequence at the end; it fails at presenting itself as a thriller, due to the monotone and oddly calm atmosphere established throughout the runtime.
The biggest problem with Them That Follow might, therefore, lie in the script: it isn’t just written in a rather formulaic way, but it also relies on cliched dialogue and interaction. The actors do their best to deliver bland lines in the most compelling way possible, but the result is still largely disappointing.
Yet, the directing isn’t any better. Despite some great locations that would offer the opportunity for some breath-taking shots and visually stunning sequences, the look of the movie is vastly dull and flat. Camera-work and sound-design are very competent, but neither they nor the high production values can make the movie visually engaging due to the lack of any original or beautiful way to present the story.
At the end, Them That Follow feels quite pretentious, as though the filmmakers were convinced to be delivering some sort of important message with this picture. Instead, this is a movie that has a good concept at its core and managed to get some big names to act in it, but ultimately it doesn’t do anything exceptional or interesting with these.
Them That Follow 4/10
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