I wrote a review for a film called The Devil Outside at last year’s festival. It was a boring affair with pure hatred for religion (which I didn’t mind it just didn’t put its point across elegantly at all) and a couple of solid actors in the film, but not an awful lot more. Since then I’ve seen films like the brilliant Apostasy, different religion but, the same style just done a lot better than the former. Them That Follow really wants to be the next Apostasy, but it comes much closer to The Devil Outside.
The film is a feature debut for its directors Brittany Poulton and Dan Maddison Savage which is a pretty good first attempt when you consider it. It makes some bold choices to stand out from the crowd of other films that really seem to hate faith. It also, notably, lists Gerrard Butler as a producer on this film which is just odd given his fanbase and the subject matter at hand.
Them That Follow takes a look at an extreme group of Christians led by a snake-handling preacher played by Walton Goggins (Ant-Man & The Wasp). Their weird ritual is to basically pray that the snakes don’t bite you when you hold them, it is to check if they are pure and have the spirit of the holy ghost inside them. Very basically, the snake is supposed to equal some kind of pathway to god and if you don’t believe he’ll bite and poison you.
It is an odd thing for them to be doing since in the bible the most famous form of a snake is to represent the devil, even if this is the case in the film why would the devil bite you if you were sinful? Anyway, the stuff with the snakes are shot really nicely, you can feel the slither and it’s aided by some great sound design that is sure to make you shudder.
The acting in the film is pretty good especially when you consider some of the talents on offer, the least surprising being a recent Academy Award winner, Olivia Coleman (her first release since The Favourite). Other more notable stars include Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmarts) and Jim Gaffigan who is primarily known for his stand-up comedy. All of which hand in pretty good performances across the board.
Inside the group of extreme Christians is Mara (played by Alice Englert) who is beginning to question her faith as she realises she can’t be in love with the Olivia Coleman’s son in the film who happens to be a non-believer, she is then forced into a relationship with another man. The drama centres around there and is quite a watch but you feel nothing for the characters considering many are just stupid. Their actions don’t make sense, especially when it comes to Snakes. I think the issue is that even though it does revolve around questioning faith the film doesn’t allow you to question. It just writes it off completely. The Devil Outside did the same thing to a completely awkward extent.
While this isn’t as bad as the worst Christian bashing films out there, it never truly reaches the heights of great ones like apostasy, that I feel it wanted to go for. They open up a discussion about faith which this never does and that is the main issue at hand here. I’m not religious in any way but it is handled so inelegantly that you can’t help but facepalm through a lot of it. With a couple of good to great performances throughout and some cool ideas that don’t make a lot of sense the film is an honourable first attempt from the directing pair it just needed to be executed in a way that makes more sense.