With high voltage power lines snaking high above the dirt tracks, the old and the new run parallel but are separated by a distance beyond reach, the world in which Mara Childs has been raised, daughter of the preacher Lemuel Childs, a man of deep and passionate devotion who holds his flock in rapture with sermons of fire and damnation.
A sect of Appalachian Pentecostals, their deference to Childs borders on a cult, his fervour illuminating their lives with his ceremonies which involve the handling of venomous rattlesnakes, the test of faith that they should not be bitten; if they are, no medical assistance will be permitted, with only God able to intervene to save their lives.
Seen to be a good child of God, Mara has been promised to Garret Booner, but her life is already one of sin, pregnant by another man who has already left his faith behind, Augie, the son of Sister Hope Slaughter, a woman whose zealotry is informed by the life she had before she was taken into the flock and who will tolerate no deviance within the community.
With its European premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Them That Follow is the debut feature of the writing/directing partnership of Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, as tangled and sinister as the snakes that slither across the rocks and fallen leaves, their entrancing movement part and parcel of the inherent danger they represent.
A small community where secrets are nigh on impossible to keep and attendance at the neon-lit barn of the Holy Ghost Gospel is mandatory, Beautiful Creatures‘ Alice Englert is Mara, caught in the impossible situation of her own making, unable to turn to anyone, the only family she has the one most likely to reject her.
Twin twisted pillars of the community, Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s Walton Goggins is Lemuel Childs while The Lobster‘s Olivia Colman is Hope Slaughter, each of them possessed by a blinding obsession which places the gospel above their own children, the good word above good deeds or acts of charity.
A closed community suspicious of outsiders where the men speak in declarations to be heeded and the women serve and listen as they sit in their quilting groups, the only hope for Them That Follow is to get out, the trap being that with little schooling, financial resources or connections beyond the community there is nowhere to go.
Filmed in rural Ohio, Poulton and Savage have captured the beauty of the backwoods and the desperation of the characters for whom any action to save themselves is tied with sacrifice; Them That Follow can be exhausting but it is only a fraction experienced by those who lead such lives.