Director: Gareth Evans
Starring: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones, Kristine Froseth, Bill Milner
Na na na na na na na na NETFLIX!
The streaming giants output is well-known to be…patchy at best. Their biggest budget offerings have generally been a few shades of brown, whereas the more indie feeling flicks have been where the studio has come good. The latest offering comes from the hand of The Raid director Gareth Evans in the form of Apostle – a period horror movie with a whiff of The Wicker Man about it. If you’re expecting the wallop that The Raid movies bought, though, think again.
1905. Former missionary Thomas Richardson (Stevens) is tasked with rescuing his sister Jennifer (Boynton) from a strange cult on an isolated Welsh island. Having lost his faith years before during a traumatic event in Peking, he needs to infiltrate the cult and worship the Prophet Malcolm (Sheen) in order to get closer to his sister's location and maintain his safety, especially with power-mad lunatic Quinn (Jones) prowling the village as Malcolm’s right-hand man. The island maintains its health by blood sacrifices to the soil, but something sinister and powerful lies beneath the ground the cult walk on.
The good news is Apostle is a positive for Netflix, an actual decent movie for the studio to hang its hat from. It’s not perfect, far from it, but it certainly has more positives than it does negatives. The period setting allows for a more primitive feeling – in terms of costumes, tools, weapons, ideals and general atmosphere – and it allows for a creepy, antiquated cloud to hang over every scene. The first act really benefits from this with Dan Stevens skulking around the island, trying to puzzle together where his sister is and, also, what the hell the cult is all about – slow paced but the expositionary narrative sets up an intriguing mystery. The second half is where the movie slowly crumbles as the story gets pulled in various directions (and genres) and things seem to happen just…because. Talking of pacing, the second act drowns in its own pacing – stretches of nothingness are interrupted by fights, maimings and scares in an attempt to keep things interesting. Whilst certain parts are unsettling, the overall character set-ups (for the most part) weren’t handled well enough to really emphasize the events on-screen.
Dan Stevens is solid in his role, though at times he does feel slightly restrained and passive, his scowl and haunted eyes do sell the torment his character has faced. Michael Sheen has his moments (in the first act) but is generally underused here, as too is Lucy Boynton. Mark Lewis Jones continues his angriness from Star Wars: The Last Jedi and generally an angry Welshman is terrifying.
The familial story didn’t work completely, again due to the lack of depth it was afforded, and as this was the crux of the movie, that’s a fairly big issue. It wasn’t horrible, but I just didn’t fully buy it. The supernatural element felt out of place as well, despite the nods being sprinkled throughout, but when it came to it, it just felt like another plot point to be added to the already swollen mix – that’s without mentioning the love subplot that occurs. Evans does well to create moments of tension during the entire movie (again, especially that first act) which are effective when they pay off, but they become few and far between.
What did work was the screeching score from Fajar Yusekemal and Aria Prayogi. The stabbing, piercing violins were a real throwback to 1970’s horror movies and felt right at home here. To put it simply, without the moody, angry score, Apostle would have suffered from the absence.
The premise of Apostle is fabulous and for the first hour or so, Evans really delivers a spooky, atmospheric and mysterious movie – the kind I love – that draws you in slowly with intrigue and anticipation. When the final hour kicks in, the movie doesn’t crash and burn, there are still good moments, but it feels convoluted and messy in comparison. Whilst it does lose its way, Apostle is still an effective and very decent mystery-horror flick.
October 13th 2018