Them That Follow

September 3, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

The Bible verse Mark 16:18 reads, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.” It’s scripture some isolated Pentecostal churches understand as literal directives for worship services designed to show their true conviction for Christ. In Them That Follow, screenwriters and first-time directors Britt Poulton and Daniel Savage explore the religious practice of snake handling, but they do so via a less-than-intriguing narrative featuring a backwoods love triangle.

Set deep in Appalachia, the story centers on the life of Mara Childs (Alice Englert), the daughter of a local pastor (Walton Goggins) who ministers to his devout followers with the gospel in one hand and a writhing rattlesnake in the other. Conflict doesn’t come in the form of Mara pushing back on her father’s serpentine sermons, however. She is a believer, which creates an interesting composition for the film’s lead character. While she is unconcerned with the venomous snakes, she does find herself at an impasse with two young men — Augie (Thomas Mann), her secret lover and spiritual dissenter, and Garret (Lewis Pullman), one of her father’s disciples the church has coerced her to marry.

With a cult leader and reptile enthusiast for a father, viewers might wonder why the sense of danger that should be pulsating through Them That Follow feels more like a stumbling block than it does a catastrophic event that could seal Mara’s fate. She’s a formidable female character, which is notable on its own, but when matched against weaker men, there is never really a moment in the film where she doesn’t appear in control — even when she’s following orders or simply sulking. Only in the final act are her stakes raised, but by then, Poulton and Savage don’t seem confident where to take the picture.

Academy Award winner Olivia Colman (The Favourite) portrays Mara’s only real adversary, the unfortunately named Hope Slaughter, a loyal member of the church and Augie’s no-nonsense mother. She exudes authority throughout the film. Them That Follow also stars Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart) as Dilly, a friend of Mara’s who comes to live with her after she is abandoned by her mother — and, ultimately, by Poulton and Savage’s script, which treats her character like an afterthought.

It’s evident Poulton and Savage wanted to delve into the concept of blind faith and how that affects someone like Mara who — like many people worldwide — has adopted the religious beliefs of her parents. The filmmakers are unable to find the emotional hook needed to express the extremely personal issues Mara is forced to confront. Poulton and Savage do a fine job setting the somber tone, but the melodrama lacks significant bite.

Beautiful Creatures

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons
Directed by: Richard LaGravenese (“P.S. I Love You”)
Written by: Richard LaGravenese (“Water for Elephants”)

When the “Twilight” films were unleashed upon the world, with their tales of romance between brooding vampires and the mere mortals who fell madly in love with them, the table was set for more supernatural monster/normal teenager love stories to come pouring out of Hollywood. While this particular genre tree has taken a little while to bear fruit, 2013 appears to be the year for new takes on the format, what with “The Twilight Saga’s” 800-pound gorilla finally ending its run. This year has already brought audiences a zombie-centric romantic comedy in the delightfully sweet “Warm Bodies,” while Valentine’s Day heralds the arrival of  “Beautiful Creatures” and it’s mixture of ancient witchcraft and swoony teenage love.

“Beautiful Creatures” begins with high schooler Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) dreaming of a mysterious girl whose face he’s never able to catch a glimpse of. Ethan longs to get out of his boring southern town, applying to colleges as far away as possible. His attention is quickly diverted, however, upon the arrival of Lena Duchannes (Alice Englert), a mysterious girl (hmm…) sent to live with her uncle, local recluse Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons). Ethan falls immediately for Lena, and as their romance builds, Ethan learns Lena is a “caster” (read: witch) and that uncertainty clouds her future. For you see, upon her 16th birthday, she will undergo “the Claiming” which will forever paint her as either a dark or a light caster. All the while the town’s churchgoing elders, led by Mrs. Lincoln (Emma Thompson) work to get Lena expelled from school and sent packing back to wherever it is she came from.

Unfortunately “Beautiful Creatures” doesn’t stop there. Director and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese commits the most commonly-occurring crime when it comes to adapting a young adult novel into a feature film: failing to actually “adapt” and instead merely “translating.” The film chugs along at decent pace until about halfway through when it dumps a washtub’s worth of mythological backstory all over everything. Emmy Rossum’s evil cousin Ridley storms in to do battle with Lena using shoddy special effects and spinning tables. Fine veteran actresses Eileen Atkins and Margo Martindale show up randomly to stand around in stupid witchy wigs to tell tales of prophecy and then promptly disappear again. And an otherwise well-done church showdown between old pros Irons and Thompson further complicates the plot by throwing in a villain of sorts who must be defeated.

It all reeks of table-setting for sequels that are hardly a guarantee and turns the film from a juicier, southern-fried “Twilight” into an overstuffed meal that, while not terrible, only leaves you with indigestion.

Alden Ehrenreich & Alice Englert – Beautiful Creatures

February 15, 2013 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the new film “Beautiful Creatures,” actors Alden Ehrenreich (“Tetro”) and Alice Englert (“Ginger & Rosa”) play Ethan and Lena, the main couple at the center of the supernatural love story where dark secrets are uncovered in a small Southern town. During an interview with me, Ehrenreich, 23, and Englert, 18, shared their thoughts about why they think the fantasy genre is so popular these days and whether or not the past is an important part of their lives.

Alden, what did you like about your character Ethan Wate?

Alden Ehrenreich: I like the strength of his convictions. He really sticks to what he believed in. He was a really aspiring character. He wanted things. He wanted to see things. He wanted more out of life. That’s what I appreciated and admired in him.

Alice, what resonated with you about your character Lena Duchannes? Are there any similarities between you and her?

Alice Englert: What I loved about Lena was actually the company she kept in this film. I related to her in a sense that she seems to have all the passion of youth and all the fears of it. What I found in her was wisdom – an ability to understand what was right and not just what was easy. I really loved that.

There are three more books scheduled to come out in this young-adult fantasy series. Can you see this franchise really taking off like “The Twilight Saga” and is that the ultimate goal?

Alden: I hope so. I really hope people like the movie and connect strongly to it. If the movie does well, we’ll make more.

What do you think it is about this fantasy genre that teenagers find so interesting today?

Alden: I think, especially for teenagers, the emotions you go through feel so big. Let’s say you live in a small, suburban town, they might even feel bigger than the town. That’s definitely what Ethan is going through. When we see these stories take place in these epic proportions, it sort of matches the size of the emotions we feel inside. That’s how I feel about all fantasy stories. We all have stories inside of us that are bigger than our environment. We need to see these stories blown out into epic proportions to feel like somebody gets it.

Alice: What else I really liked about this movie is that it doesn’t project that a getting a boyfriend is the most important thing in your life. I think what is so great about [Lena and Ethan’s] relationship is that they’re not this one entity. They are two very different people with very different strengths. Not being together doesn’t lessen the impression and experience of the love. First love is always going to be first love.

I think that is an interesting point because that is something I had a big problem with in “The Twilight Saga.” The character of Bella could barely function if she wasn’t with Edward.

Yeah, I don’t agree with that on a personal level. I think the most important relationship you can have with someone is yourself. That’s the person you’re going to be stuck with forever no matter what.

A lot of the story in “Beautiful Creatures” is about uncovering the dark pasts of certain characters. Are you the type of person that likes to dig deep into the past or would you rather just live in the moment?

Alden: I think a little bit of both. I don’t believe in regretting things that I’ve done, so I don’t worry about the past. But it’s good to have a sense of continuity about where you come from. I like to find out about my family history.

Alice: I think the past is very interesting. It’s amazing how much it repeats itself. It’s really important to be aware of that so you know how not to repeat it.

What was it like sharing scenes with actors as highly regarded as Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis and Emma Thompson?

Alden: I am so fortunate because I have scenes one-on-one with all of them. Doing those scenes just brings you to another level. Alice and I would go watch them in scenes even when we weren’t in them. It was like getting free acting classes! Just seeing them do their thing was really enlightening. To see them not only perform, but also see their process was really an incredible experience.

Was the chemistry between you and Alice something that was natural or did it take some time to find as the film went on?

Alden: We got along pretty immediately because we had a similar viewpoint about what we wanted to the story to be. We wanted it to be something that felt very real. She, I, and [director] Richard [LaGravenese] had the same kind of mission statement about what we wanted. Because of that, we got along really well and had a mutual respect for one another that carried throughout the whole film.

Alice, you have someone to look up to when it comes to iconic love stories. Your mom is director Jane Campion (“The Piano,” “The Portrait of a Lady”). Did she give you any advice about how to confront this type of narrative and character?

Alice: Definitely. She’s my mom. She always wants to give advice. (Laughs) She is a huge influence in my life and I really do look up to her.