Them That Follow

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As a child who was raised without religion in my life, I was always curious about my friends who were religious. One of those friends was always wearing a suit on Sunday mornings, as the family went off to church. In 8th grade, a good friend of mine kept his Led Zeppelin, Kiss, and AC/DC albums at my house, because his hardcore Christian mom thought that was satanic music. As an older teen and adult, I’d have conversations with friends about their religious beliefs. And when it comes to the entertainment industry tackling religion, I’m always perplexed at how things are done. The show South Park didn’t air an episode where they made fun of Muhammad, because that was deemed so offensive (and dangerous, because of threats they received). Yet the creators of South Park did The Book of Mormon, which pokes fun at Latter Day Saints.

We praise athletes like Russell Wilson or A.C. Green, both of whom wanted to wait until they were married to have sex — yet we laugh and make fun of The Bachelor candidate who was a virgin. We scoff at Tom Cruise for his Scientology beliefs (or his jumping on a couch).

When filmmakers take on religion in movies, it’s often with mixed results. I was moved by last year’s Boy Erased, in which a preacher (Russell Crowe) forces his son (Lucas Hedges) to go to a conversion camp that will rid him of his homosexual urges.

A few weeks ago, Midsommar dealt with a religious cult. It went down some really dark paths, and although it was a flawed film, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. This film is like Midsommar with rednecks. And all through the movie, I kept thinking of lyrics from Doors songs.

When I was back there in seminary school, there was a person there who put forth the proposition…that you can petition the Lord with prayer.

You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!!!

Jim Morrison / The Soft Parade

Now, if this church realized you couldn’t petition the Lord with rattlesnakes!

Them That Follow was co-written and co-directed by Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage. As a drama or thriller, it’s a little bit tame. As a character study (of a handful of characters), it works well. It all builds up to a 3rd act I didn’t see coming and was rather powerful. Especially since most of the story goes down the path you were expecting.

Tell all the people that you see/Follow me/Follow me down

The Doors / Tell All the People

Alice Englert, who was good in the horrible movie Ginger & Rosa, plays Mara. She’s the cute daughter of Pastor Lemuel (Walton Goggins). He leads a Pentecostal church hidden in the Appalachian mountains. He is a proponent of snake-handling. And to think, you hate when the plate is passed around for donations.

One of the things that’s a pleasant surprise, is that Pastor Lemuel isn’t some cruel nutjob. His heart is in the right place. He’s just deluded. How much more interesting is it when writers treat religious characters this way? This reminded me of Joel Edgerton’s character who ran the conversion treatment camp in Boy Erased. He’s completely wrong in what he’s doing, but he’s not a bad person. He’s just completely misguided.

Now, the first movie I remember Walton Goggins in was The Apostle (Farrah Fawcett). That was a great movie Robert Duvall wrote and directed, but his preacher character was never a nice person. 

It’s great to see that after The Apostle, Goggins went on to bigger and better things. His face, which always has a look of evil, served him well in Tomb Raider, and a few Tarantino flicks (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained). The menace in his eyes, reminds me of Bruce Dern and Jack Nicholson in some early ‘70s films. If this movie wasn’t such a small indie, it would surely land him an Oscar nomination.

Speaking of Oscars, the woman who won for Best Actress (and robbed Glenn Close) last year, is almost unrecognizable here. Olivia Colman plays Hope, who runs a convenience store, is a member of the church, and her son Augie (Thomas Mann, who was the star of one of the best movies of 2015 — Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) has a crush on Mara. Since he doesn’t belong to the church, that’s probably not going to make the folks in town happy.

Some outlaws lived by the side of a lake/The minister’s daughter’s in love with a snake —

The Doors / Not to Touch the Earth

Mara seems to be on the path to marry Garret (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill). That’s just fine with daddy, as he’s not only a member of the church, but his heir apparent. Heck, Garret even risks his job when it comes to protecting the church.

Another surprise in the cast is stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan, who has an interesting, understated role. He’s sporting a crazy mountain man beard, and despite the lack of lines, his character actually has a little bit of an arc.

The snake was pale, gold/Glazed and shrunken/We were afraid to touch it —

The Doors / Celebration of the Lizard

This is an interesting debut film from Savage and Poulton, and I hope they continue their collaborations. This script may have been a tad underwritten, but the movie still works.

It’s playing at a handful of theatres in San Diego, including my favorite — the Angelika Film Center.

3 stars out of 5.

Ride the snake/To the lake —

The Doors / The End

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