Tag Archives: religion

THEM THAT FOLLOW: 2019 Chicago Film Festival

Two young adults stand up to religious extremism in the backwoods of America.

Alice Englert in Them that Follow.

THEM THAT FOLLOW, USA. Directors: Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage. Starring: Alice Englert, Walton Goggins, Thomas Mann, Olivia Colman, Lewis Pullman, Jim Gaffigan. Language, English. Runtime: 98 minutes. A Sundance premiere. Release date: August 2, 2019. Rating: A—

If anyone had told me that I would go to the movie theatre to watch a movie about an extremist Pentecostal community existing in the backwoods of America and following the mandates dictated by a preacher hell-bent on exacting control over his subjects I would have laughed out loud. It’s not that I don’t have any respect for this underbelly of society. It’s that these people have for so long been lampooned in film and serials, and their leaders born the stamp of amoral, self-righteous charlatans, that to tell a compelling story equal parts coming of age and moral outrage seems an impossible task that could devolve into cheap melodrama at any moment.

Directors Savage and Poulton waste no time in setting up the scenario complete with its own Chekhov gun, and that is a good thing. The introspective and subservient Mara (Alice Englert) lives in an isolated community with her widower father Lemuel (Walton Goggins, giving a performance that is the right amount of control-freak without going over the edge). Lemuel is the clear leader of the community and it’s “moral” center; a pastor, he conducts sermons that instill the Fear of God onto his devoted, performs exorcisms on those believed to have the Devil inside while speaking in tongues, and also engages in snake handling. While illegal, he continues to follow practice in order to reenact the ultimate test of faith.

Right off the bat the community shows signs of cracks (and who else but a blind person would want to live in this much medieval dark?). Mara enters a convenience store with her friend Dilly (Kaitlyn Dever). The store is run by townswoman Hope (Olivia Colman). She is the mother of the guy with progressive ideas Mara has been seeing, Augie (Thomas Mann). She doesn’t see Mara deftly stealing a pregnancy test. What she does know, is that Mara is to be betrothed to Garrett (Lewis Pullman), a bit of a possessive creep who fawns over Mara’s purity and confesses the lengths that he will go to prove his love for her. Meanwhile, Mara? Not that impressed, but cornered into the cul de sac of an arranged marriage, a helpless victim of a society steeped in religious patriarchy.

With this set of cards, both Savage and Poulton lay out a game that starts to gain momentum without overreaching or getting ahead of itself. We know the basics, we know there is a delicate situation at hand, and that somehow this festering psychic boil, much like the physical boil that manifests on the arm of an innocent victim seeking some form of answer, must explode and reveal its poison for better or worse. Them That Follow is a terrific buildup of sheer tension, a juggling act that the directors handle extremely well. Nothing in the movie—even and especially its characters’ decisions to let faith alone guide their actions—seems out of place (although the rational part of me kept yelling inside my mind, because of course I know better).

Of all the characters I’m going to single out Olivia Colman’s pPerformance. While she may have won an Oscar for her wild and volatile turn as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, here she plays a part where she always seems to know more than she let’s on. That her character carries the ironic name Hope can’t be just a coincidence. Of the ensemble, she is the one who manifests equal parts hope and hopelessness in a single range of expression. It’s almost as though her faith is so strong it almost drives her into a very dark place, but she is also acting not out of self-righteousness like Goggins’ Lemuel, but of a want to save her son.

This is a solid debut that will definitely please anyone seeking compelling stories of people caught in traps of their own design. It is a definite watch; catch it when it comes out this August.

THE LITTLE HOURS

Aubrey Plaza stars in this baudy, raunchy comedy about nuns who encounter a rather studly “mute” (Dave Franco).

THE LITTLE HOURS
USA
Director: Jeff Baena
Runtime: 90 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies Grading:

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Do not let the habits, or the setting, or the religious imagery fool you. The Little Hours is a rip-roaring, baudy comedy that owes its dues to Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, Mel Brooks movies, and maybe even some early John Waters. Loosely based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, namely the first story of the third day, The Little Hours focuses on the lives of nuns (Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, and Kate Micucci) living in relative serene, religious bliss who encounter a young man (Dave Franco) who’s been taken as an apprentice by their priest (John C Reilly). The young man had escaped certain death by his master (Nick Offerman) who caught him having sex with his wife (Lauren Weedman, who’s gone too soon from the film and boasts some razor-sharp scenes with Offerman) and wanted him dead. The priest has decided to have him work in their convent and learn from his sins without knowing that the nuns who live under his roof are not the typical, God-fearing type but strikingly savvy and in need of a man to satisfy their passions. For its brief run — the movie itself is a mere 90 minutes from opening to closing credits — The Little Hours is a laugh a minute riot and manages to throw everything at the audience, from ferocious verbal assaults in modern speech by the nuns themselves to some truly off-the-wall performances by all involved, and even when the entire thing starts to wear just a shade thin — because how long can you keep the crazy running at all cylinders before something starts to give –, this is a solidly entertaining little comedy that will erase all  your momentary troubles away and even boasts a little gravitas underneath its farcical exterior, as we get to see a picture of how difficult it was for women to live back in the 1300s. Go see this one — it’s a shot of fresh air.






EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

 

embrace of the serpent

There are films, and then there are films. I’m sure I’m not the first to say this, but when you see movie after movie after movie, often non-stop, and then something like Embrace of the Serpent reveals itself, your eyes literally fly open. You feel as if though somehow, the fabric of the screen had somehow trickled away into dust and disclosed another world, time and place, a beckoning, living paradise drenched in wonders, adventure, and mysteries just waiting to be discovered.

Split into two timeframes — 1909 and 1940 –, Embrace of the Serpent is the story of Karamakate, the last surviving member of his own tribe, living in solitude in the Vaupes, deep in the heart of Colombia.

The first time period, 1909, has Karamakate (Nilbio Torres, a commanding, warrior presence) coming upon Theo (Jan Bijvoet), an explorer whose fallen sick, and his partner, the Westernized indian Manduca (Yauenku Migue) who asks Karamakate for help. Karamakate expresses an open distrust for Theo — after all, he is a Blanco, a white man, and they’ve been responsible for decimating his tribe. Theo expresses that he’s only searching for the yakruna, and that he can help Karamakate find remaining members of his tribe along the way.

A gradual, yet sometimes volatile relationship develops between the three men as they canoe through the river. On their way to the fabled yakruna, they come across a rubber worker who begs Manduca for death, poisonous food that Theo in his ignorance ingests, and a tribe whose leader steals Theo’s compass. Upon discovering the act, his goodbye sours; he needs the compass, but also states that these people will lose their own tradition of using the sky for location. Karamakate counters, justifiably, that knowledge shouldn’t be for a chosen few.

One of the more telling encounters is at a mission where a monk has seemingly converted young boys into the ways of the Spanish. At first fearful that the three men will raid his place, he accepts their visit. Here is where a sense of religious hypocrisy comes into the picture: later on, the men realize the monk has forbidden the boys speak their native language and whips one of them savagely. This visit will repeat itself in a moment straight out of a cult movie, when in 1940 an older Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) and another explorer, Evan (Brionne Davis), come upon the now grown men from that mission, living under the vicious thumb of a man who believes himself to be the Christ and who’s clearly insane. It’s a perversion of the previous scene and a symbolic indication of how south things went after the Spanish conquered the new world. In eradicating most of the native culture (deemed heretic and barbaric), they plunged the remaining people into an even more savage reality, as dark as the Dark Ages, bordering on religious frenzy.

embrace of the serpent-1

And in the midst, the Maguffin of the story, the elusive yakruna, the rare pearl beckoning both Theo and Evan, both with Karamakate as a guide: withholding and willing to destroy information to preserve something pristine, but a little more giving the second time around. Perhaps the zeal of youth is to blame; who wouldn’t protect the secrets of his own civilization before allowing it to be corrupted by a society determined on imposing its stamp and stamping everything else out?

Of course, the older Karamakate has mellowed, it seems, and can now only dispense knowledge where in the past, he would have kept it for himself. Perhaps that is all he can aspire to. Embrace of the Serpent is a fascinating epic like no other, it’s its own Apocalypse Now, demonstrating the heavy load that being the sole survivor of one’s own people it can be.