For someone who loves religious/cult-centered horror movies, I was excited to learn there was one about a Pentecostal sect that practices snake handling. I anticipated seeing Them That Follow in 2019, but it never came to a theater in town. Now it’s on Showtime, and when I finally watched it, my anticipations were no match for the disappointment that ensued.
Co-directed and written by Brittany Poulton and Dan Madison Savagae, Them That Follow is an oversimplified story of religion and the human connections within it.
Mara Childs (Alice Englert) and her father, Pastor Lemuel (Walton Goggins) live in a remote Appalachian community. Among them are various parishioners including Garret (Lewis Pullman), Hope Slaughter (Olivia Colman), Zeke Slaughter (Jim Gaffigan) and Dilly Picket (Kaitlyn Denver). Mara and Garret are in a serious (marriage serious) relationship that her father approves. But Mara is in love with another man, Hope and Zeke’s non-religious son Augie (Thomas Mann). So when Garret proposes to Mara, she has to choose between love or a religion: a choice with dire consequences
Drama in Appalachia
The movie is a horror drama, heavy on the drama. It has many horror elements, including the tense music, rising suspense, scary creatures and constant threat of death. In whole, it is a story about Mara’s relationships with the people in her life. Oh, and there are a few snakes. Nowhere near the number I was hoping for. Hence my disappointment.
Now, since the story is about a woman in a religion whose practices largely emphasize snakes, you think the animal would have a bigger role in the film. The trailer sure makes it seem so:
Unfortunately, the snakes in Them That Follow are little more than symbolism, particularly phallic symbolism. That becomes clear well within the first ten minutes of the movie. And it gets really old really quick.
Snake handling is a controversial religious rite involving snakes and biblical worship. Since snake handling can be so dangerous (e.g. historically several people have died from the snakebites), the practice is illegal in most states.
Such legal complications are evident when Them That Follow reveals Pastor Lemuel to be under police investigation after a snakebite killed a young boy in his church. This is only a minor detail, until a snake bites another character and the church faces another threat of legal repercussions. Such a subplot should be important, but it never has any real significance. In fact, the movie downplays it so much that even the characters seem to forget about it.
The story is halfhearted. There is little character development, random religious facts and foreshadowing are thrown here and there. And how many foot washing visuals do we need? It is obvious the writers did their research, but their blending of research and fiction fell short.
While the story faltered, the actors and cinematography made it more thrilling to watch. There are some beautiful nature scenes that made me forget what I was watching (is that supposed to happen?).
I desperately want Walton Goggins to be typecast as asshole pastors forever. He absolutely kills it in that department (if you watch Righteous Gemstones you know what I’m talking about). Olivia Coleman of course is stellar, her performance hard and heartbreaking. And Alice Englert, Kaitlin Denver and Thomas Mann were perfect in their emotionally driven roles.
I want to know if Jim Gaffigan got lost and found himself acting in a horror drama. What was he doing here? Is everything okay? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. He did an excellent job portraying a worried, devout Christian father. Still…
Them That Follow is more miss than hit and arguably good. It is not scary, the plot is forgettable and it oversimplifies a complicated and interesting religious practice. Yet I kept watching. In spite of its foibles, the movie pulled me in. For 98 minutes I wanted to know what was going to happen next. The ending leaves something to be desired. However, if you like thrilling, religious dramas, you might like this. (3 / 5)
Check out what else we’re watching here at Haunted MTL!
*All photos from YouTube video.
Movies n TV
Consecration, a Film Review
Consecration is a 2023 horror mystery movie directed by Christopher Smith, who also co-wrote the script with Laurie Cook.
Consecration is a 2023 horror mystery movie directed by Christopher Smith, who also co-wrote the script with Laurie Cook. This R-Rated film includes Jena Malone, Danny Huston, and Janet Suzman as its starring cast. The film is currently available on AMC+ and Shudder.
After her brother dies, Grace (Jena Malone) goes to Scotland to investigate the circumstances. At every step of the way, Mount Saviour Convent seems to interfere with her investigation. Father Romero (Danny Huston) seems eager to help her, even if Mother Superior (Janet Suzman) resists her, but a strange fear seems to direct their actions. Worse yet, Grace endures visions of the past, present, and future.
What I Liked
A surprise performance steals the movie for me, that being Eilidh Fisher’s Meg. This nun-in-training remains consistently inconsistent, forever making me unsure of what to expect. With uncertainty and mystery at the heart of the film, Meg expresses that instability by keeping Grace and the viewer on edge.
Mother Superior and Father Romero have perfect friction with each other. Both manage the supernatural situation in their own way, acting as enemies and supporters toward Grace as needed. This friction also adds to the uncertainty that surrounds Grace’s investigation.
The mystery itself surprises me, though there is barely enough to add the context one needs for this mystery. However, it still earns credit for creativity and deception. Most twists and reveals become apparent and often underwhelm me, but Consecration deserves credit for catching me off guard.
Consecration showcases some alluring visuals, CGI not included. The setting and designs really add to the movies. At times, these visuals purposely contrast their environment as the narrative requires. Usually, it complements the central vision. The film gives off a pleasant aesthetic throughout its runtime–barring the CGI.
As a horror, Consecration has haunting moments. The mystery remains the central selling point. However, it leaves the viewer in constant uncertainty that helps the horror thrive.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Self-harm and suicide reoccur throughout the film, across several scenes and characters. Aside from ensuring the audience remains uncertain of events, there are no larger discussions or much focus on the issue.
Child abuse defines the backstory of certain characters. Unlike the point mentioned above, this earns more of a narrative focus. However, it’s still not exactly the point of the mystery. Don’t expect the film to explore this with sensitivity or depth. If these seem like dealbreakers, Consecration might be a skip.
What I Dislike
I briefly touched on a CGI problem, which hinders the otherwise interesting and alluring practical visuals. There are no ways to understate how distractingly bad one scene’s CGI is and how it upsets that quality. This scene, no spoilers, happens to be the most open use of CGI. There are other CGI moments, but none distract or hinder like that first scene.
The monster reveal underwhelms in a specific way. The twist perfectly aligns and sets up the foundation for this reveal to make the monster work. However, several reshoots add context to prior scenes to show this “demon” in action, and it somewhat upsets the effectiveness of those scenes.
Thoren Ferguson’s DCI Harris shows up sporadically throughout the film. He acts as the force of law, often hostile but completely underutilized. I suspect DCI Harris had a larger role, but somehow this plot was reduced. I assume this because he plays an important scene at the end that doesn’t seem earned. This isn’t to undermine Ferguson’s performance, as he does everything he can with what he’s given.
Consecration hooked me in and kept me engaged throughout its runtime. While the horror is middling, it has merit. The mystery remains the strength of the film, though it’s somewhat underdeveloped. If your mystery films tend to keep you in suspense through shifty characters and secret religious orders are your thing, Consecration might evoke your interest.
(3 / 5)
Movies n TV
You Reap What You Woe
Episode five of Tim Burton’s Wednesday was very busy. A lot is going on here, and most of it is quite fun. So let’s not waste any time getting into it.
First, we must discuss the fate of poor Eugene. If you’ll recall, the last episode ended with Wednesday finding him in the woods, covered in blood.
Despite Principal Weem’s insistence that he’s resting up and healing, he’s actually in a coma in the local ICU. But maybe she has reason to gloss over that unfortunate fact. It’s parents’ weekend, after all. Probably not the best time to admit that a student was grievously injured.
While there are certainly some Nevermore students who are happy to see their parents, none of our main characters are among them. We know that Wednesday isn’t thrilled to see her family, as she’s still resentful that they left her there.
Still, she’s not exactly pleased when Gomez is arrested for the murder of a man named Garrett. This devastates the family and forces Morticia to reveal a secret she’s been keeping from Wednesday.
Morticia also finally gets a chance to talk about Wednesday’s visions with her. She tells her that Goody Addams, who’s made psychic contact with Wednesday several times, is there to teach her about her visions. But Goody Addams is also super vengeful, and not to be trusted. I wonder why.
While much of the episode is about freeing Gomez from jail, the subplots are no less interesting.
Let’s start with Enid. As we know from the first episode, she has yet to grow into her full werewolf potential. If she can’t do this, she’ll be shunned by her kind and likely abandoned by her family pack. Her mother wants to help her, by sending her to a summer camp meant to help werewolves wolf out. Enid refers to these as conversion therapy camps. Which is clearly a problem.
The story that shook me was Bianca. She’s outright afraid when her mother shows up. And the reason is soon made clear.
Her mother is part of a cult called the Morning Song. Bianca’s mother is married to the leader. She’s been using her siren song to trap people in the cult. But her powers are fading. She wants Bianca to come take her place. If she doesn’t, she’ll reveal a terrible secret of how Bianca got into Nevermore Academy in the first place.
I honestly don’t have a lot of bad things to say about this episode. Except that wolf out is a ridiculous term and I cannot take anyone who uses it seriously at all. The characters were fun, the storyline was interesting, and it was satisfying to start getting answers. It helped that this episode included some real-world bad guys, like conversion therapy and cults. If every other episode of this season had been as good as this one, the show would be top marks from me all around.
This episode was a dramatic example of exactly how parents can fail at their job of raising their kids. And, thankfully, how they can succeed. We see Enid’s mom refusing to let her grow at her own pace. We see Sheriff Galpin ignore a clear cry for help from his son Tyler. We see Bianca’s mother, involved in a cult, using her child for her siren powers. And of course, we don’t see Xavier’s parents at all.
But we also see Morticia being a good mom to a difficult kid who’s rebelling against her. We see Enid’s father supporting her, exactly as she is. We see Eugene’s moms by his side at the hospital. At the bedside of their son, they are still able to give comfort to Wednesday. That is some strength right there.
Overall, this was a fun episode. We got some answers and were introduced to even more questions. I had fun watching it, and I’m looking forward to the next episode.
(4 / 5)
Movies n TV
Solace, a Film Review
Solace (2015) is a mystery thriller directed by Afonso Poyart. This R-rated film stars Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Morgan and Abbie Cornish.
Solace (2015) is a mystery thriller directed by Afonso Poyart. This R-rated film includes Anthony Hopkins, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish, and Colin Farrell. As of this review, it is currently available to Netflix and Hulu subscribers.
As a string of murders leave FBI agents Joe Merriwether (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Katherine Cowles (Abbie Cornish) perplexed, Joe turns to an old FBI contact and friend, Dr. John Clancy. Dr. Clancy possesses psychic abilities that make him an essential asset, but tragedies in his personal life leave him distant and broken. Fearing a person with similar gifts as himself, Dr. Clancy cannot help but lend his assistance.
What I Like
This cast is great, with notable legends living up to their reputation. While by no means career-highlighting performances, they work well together and provide a weight that pushes past lackluster character roles.
As the main character, Anthony Hopkins’s Dr. Clancy stands out above the rest. Given the most screen time and plot relevance, this opinion comes easily. His role has the most opportunity to make us care for his character.
Solace creates fun and engaging scenes that tie directly to the characters’ psychic abilities, adding tension in unique ways. While other movies with psychics utilize similar strategies to convey this power–the movie Next comes to mind–the scenes add variety to otherwise lackluster cinematography. This decision also adds a somewhat strategic nature to the psychic battles.
Originally intended to be a sequel to Seven, this idea, thankfully, does not follow through to the final product. The story behind that is the typical Hollywood shuffle and brand recognition. I can’t exactly figure out a place to put this interesting fact, but the choice remains a benefit to the film.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Slight spoilers ahead! Read this section with that in mind.
A closeted man contracts AIDS and infects his wife. As this goes into rather old homophobia and fears, I felt it needed mentioning. Considering the film’s release date, 2016 (US), the plot point feels uninspired.
Some gratuitous sex scenes tie into the above reveal. The dramatic reveal and voyeuristic nudity (of the wife) make for an odd viewing experience. When the reveal isn’t shocking, it doesn’t exactly add much weight to the elongated scenes.
What I Dislike
There are no tactful ways to go about the low effort of the film. It’s surreal to see the names attached, the concepts addressed, and how it all fumbles. I imagine this discrepancy has something to do with the original sequel idea, but that remains speculation. Ultimately, the film feels awkwardly low budget for the cast it possesses.
Adding to this weakness are the underdeveloped characters and rushed plotlines. The film feels unfocused in direction, revealing things as they become relevant with fluctuating degrees of foreshadowing. Some of these revelations work, with some speculation, but adding them all together makes Solace weaker as a film.
This film isn’t scary, despite the premise being extremely promising. The idea of a potentially psychic killer does evoke a lot of possibilities, added with the exceptional cast, and it seems destined for success. Yet, the horror is middling at best.
Solace wants to be more and achieves some success in certain areas, but its inability to build and support these ideas hinders the overall quality. Perhaps Solace desires to upstage the twists of the typical mystery thriller that makes the film grasp too many new and interesting ideas. Regardless of the reason, the film suffers, and the viewing experience becomes underwhelming.
For a thriller killer, Solace doesn’t hold much water to competition. While the cast performs their roles perfectly and works well with each other, the notable weaknesses in writing and lackluster visuals don’t do the acting justice. A surprisingly exciting cast becomes a disappointing letdown. (2 / 5)