A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Them That Follow is an Appalachia-set drama about a preacher's daughter (Alice Englert) who's engaged to marry one man but finds herself pregnant by another. It includes a scene of assault and attempted rape: A man fights with and slaps a woman, bending her over a counter and pulling up her dress before he's stopped. In another scene, a character slices a knife into his snakebit arm, sucks out the bloody venom, and spits it on the floor. The wound becomes increasingly gory, and there's a disturbing amputation scene. A shotgun is fired. Language includes a use of "f--k" and a use of "whore," plus "God," "Jesus Christ," and "damned" in a faith-based context. There's a scene of a woman's vagina being inspected (off-camera) in a lead-up to her wedding, also kissing, flirting, a naked woman's back, and a sheer nightgown. A man gets drunk and violent in one scene, and cigarette smoking is shown.
What's the story?
In THEM THAT FOLLOW, Mara (Alice Englert) -- the daughter of Pentecostal preacher Lemuel (Walton Goggins) -- lives deep in Appalachia. The family's religion involves handling dangerous rattlesnakes as proof of their devotion. Mara is engaged to the seemingly decent Garret (Lewis Pullman) but discovers that she's pregnant -- and it's not Garret's baby. The father is Augie (Thomas Mann), who doesn't subscribe to the local religion but for whom Mara still has strong feelings. On the eve of Mara's wedding, Augie's mother, Hope (Olivia Colman), discovers Mara's secret. Then, when Augie tries to prove himself to Mara by handling a snake in church, he's bitten and lies dying. With everything hanging in the balance, Mara must decide what's most important.
Is it any good?
Despite a promising setting and characters, this drama quickly disappoints as it turns into an ordinary story of romantic teen angst, avoiding any kind of cultural exploration or understanding. The feature-directing debut for the team of Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, Them That Follow had a chance to get inside a community that many viewers might not be familiar with, but instead it keeps them at arm's distance. The characters' religion comes across more like ignorance and intolerance: Per the film, they regard the people of the outside word as "sheep" and claim that "God is on our side." Not to mention that Goggins is downright scary as the preacher.
And so the movie's focus becomes Mara and her troubles, which are recycled straight out of any old soap opera. Them That Follow tries to generate sympathy for Mara by showing how she's pushed around by the men in her life. It attempts to get viewers to root for her independence but also for some kind of romantic fulfillment. Ultimately, it's a one-sided, wishy-washy movie, shot in constant hand-held overcast grayness. Not even Kaitlyn Dever (so charming in Booksmart), who plays Mara's best friend and is on-screen for long segments, seems to actually do anything -- nor does comedian Jim Gaffigan, as one of the true believers in the flock.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Them That Follow's violence. How did it make you feel? Does it feel necessary to the story or over the top?
How is sex depicted? Is it something to be ashamed of, and kept secret? Is it something to be endured? What values are imparted?
How is the characters' choice of religion depicted? Does it seem like a positive portrayal? What else could have been shown?
Does Mara achieve any independence by the end of the story? Is her life ruled by men? Is it possible to find a balance?
- In theaters: August 2, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 29, 2019
- Cast: Walton Goggins, Alice Englert, Olivia Colman
- Directors: Dan Madison Savage, Britt Poulton
- Studio: 1091 Media
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some disturbing violence
- Last updated: October 28, 2019
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