Filmmakers hoping to offer a sympathetic depiction of these animals face quite the challenge. In the hands of this capable storytelling duo, snakes are not the terror many imagine them to be, though a very real threat to life and limb. Rather, they are beautiful, albeit seriously misunderstood, creatures. It is also difficult to paint a sympathetic picture of something as misunderstood, and often equally reviled, as Pentecostal snake handling. But Poulton and Savage demonstrate the same kind of care and concern for these people of faith as they do the serpents they handle. Early in the film, Mara pledges herself to be married to Garrett Lewis Pullman , the spirit-filled young man being groomed by Lemuel, even though she is pregnant with the child of Augie Thomas Mann , the wayward son whom she really loves. All told then, Them That Follow is a coming-of-age love story. The filmmakers could have easily sensationalized this practice, but they go to great lengths to do the opposite. The camera lingers over the characters and the places they inhabit, lending the visuals a Terrence Malick-like sense of spiritual saturation. The story unfolds slowly but intentionally, creating space for the characters to be and become rich and textured human beings rather than caricatures or stereotypes.
Jamie Coots of Middlesboro, Ky., refused treatment after being bitten.
What Hollywood Gets Right About Snake-Handling Christians
Andrew Hamblin handles poisonous snakes every Sunday in the name of Jesus. The show is bound to stir interest in the unique—and mysterious—Christian sect. There are about snake-handling churches in the United States, and almost all of them are found in Appalachia. Snake handlers like Hamblin do not worship snakes. Instead they use snakes to show non-Christians that God protects them from harm. In church services, when they feel the anointing of the Holy Spirit come upon them, these Christians reach into boxes, pick up poisonous snakes and hold them up as they pray, sing, and even dance. Spiritual signs like speaking in tongues, holding venomous snakes, and even drinking poison or playing with fire may seem radical to many Christians.
Snake handling , also called serpent handling , as a religious rite is observed in a small number of isolated churches, mostly in the United States , usually characterized as rural and part of the Holiness movement. The practice began in the early 20th century in Appalachia and plays only a small part in the church service. Participants are Holiness , Pentecostals , Charismatics , or other evangelicals. Many writers have attempted to designate George Went Hensley — as both the progenitor and popularizer of Appalachian religious snake handling,   but his role in initiating the practice has been disputed by academic studies.
Jamie, a third-generation snake-handling pastor and the star of the short-lived National Geographic reality show Snake Salvation , had been bitten by a four-foot rattlesnake during a service at his church, the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, in Middlesboro, Kentucky. He had been bitten by his snakes eight times before and survived, but the ninth bite, which had severed an artery in his right hand, killed him quickly. He never opened his eyes again. He took his last breath in my arms.