Let’s get contemplative

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Them That Follow follows a snake handling Pentecostal community in Appalachia. We follow Mara, a preacher’s daughter, who is about to enter an arranged marriage, but is pregnant from a fling with another local.

The patriarchal society forces Mara into secrecy, and we see her forced into hiding her thoughts, and at a constant conflict with her own faith. How these events unfold play out in a somber and meditative film.

Where the film succeeds it succeeds greatly. The acting and dialogue are fantastic at every turn. Having Walton Goggins as the minister certainly helps here, and he offers a forceful yet reserved minister who is clearly in complete control (or mostly so) of his flock. All of the characters are great, including a surprising dramatic turn from Jim Gaffigan and the always delightful Olivia Colman. I could easily list all of the characters here as there simply isn’t a dud performance.

The cinematography is marvelous. Our directors capture the enclosed beauty of Appalachia in the same vein as Winter’s Bone. Every shot captures the haunting entrapment and the natural wonder of the region. Good films tend to have a few shots that you can really chew on, Them That Follow has dozens that are simply a treat to see. The natural shots, framing, and still scenes are great.

There are no special effects here. The filmmakers waited for the appropriate time of day for scenes, and the patience behind this film separates it from so many anymore that seem to be made in a rush.

The film handles what many would see as a radical sect with respect. We could easily verge into exploitation, but we don’t here, and this is to the film’s credit. The religion marginalizes some, but gives hope to others, and we are shown both sides of this. The gendered issues within these communities are presented honestly, and we as the viewer are left to examine them in our own way. I could see how some would see this film as making a mistake in not making the argument for the viewer, but I prefer it this way. The structure here allows us to see the world presented a bit more holistically. It also makes the harsh treatment of women even more disturbing when it is presented simply as the reality.

This is not to say that the film doesn’t show the problematic aspects. We are shown the denial of science, medicine, rights, and so forth. We are within this community for the running time and slowly see how structured and limiting such a world is.

Mara (played well by Alice Englert) is our window into this world, and I wish we had more information about what she is thinking. In some ways, this story would work better as a novel so we could get her thoughts. Sometimes they have her as too passive, but this does make sense given the community; however, it would allow us to link up to her more directly.

The film is contemplative throughout. I see others saying it is too slow, and I do see how this might be an issue for some, but folks looking for a thoughtful and introspective film will like this one.

I think this one is a must watch for fans of somber character studies.

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