Cults and gore and Dan Stevens, oh my!
Acclaimed for his work on The Raid series, writer-director Gareth Evans ventures into new territory with Apostle, trading fisticuffs for terror in an unforgettable, albeit messy, descent into hell.
On a mysterious island in 1905, Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) infiltrates a cult of religious fanatics to try and rescue his sister. As he gets deeper into the cult, he discovers that beneath the unsettling exterior lies something much, much more insidious. To say anything else would be blasphemy, because Apostle goes to some very unexpected places.
The atmosphere is thick from the beginning. Stevens’ Thomas is a bundle of nerves guided by a purpose, and for the first hour, it’s hard not to get lost in the mystery along with him. Like any Gareth Evans film, Apostle looks impeccable. Cinematographer Matt Flannery gives a grimy, lived-in feel to the island, which Evans makes sure to populate with engrossing plot-lines.
There’s the tale of star-crossed lovers, the enigmatic leader Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), the over-zealous brute trying to wrestle control of the island (Mark Lewis Jones), and the mystery of what the heck is going on in the first place. Particularly, the game of cat and mouse between Thomas and Malcolm jumps off the screen, with each getting closer and closer to what the other is playing at.
One gets the sense that the first half of this movie would’ve made for an excellent Netflix series. There’s so much going on that its hard not to want more time to develop everything, yet that also doubles as a bit of a compliment. Evans has showed that he can put together a dense mythology with The Raid films, and he applies that same spirit here.
The problem for some might come in the second half. Apostle makes a choice to reveal exactly what’s going on with the cult, causing a full genre shift into horror. It’s abrupt, leading to scenes involving some seriously out there concepts.
This is where the film is at its most effective. Thomas, and those around him, feel utterly trapped on this island. Two sequences involving torture are some of the most gut-churning things I’ve seen in a while. It does risk going a bit too far, but because the film zeroes in on the reactions of Thomas and others to the horrors around them, it’s tasteful.
Nearly every plot line coalesces into a twisted, bloody third act that is more than ample nightmare fuel. It’s sensory overload in the best way possible. Evans takes his penchant for beautifully shot, frenetic action and transforms it into lingering moments of Lovecraftian panic.
Whether or not the whole film comes together is a different story. Similar to the film itself, it’s bound to be split down the middle. While some may feel cheated, others will love the unpredictability and the bizarre places this film takes us. Consider me part of the latter camp.
Apostle is a genre film doing what a genre film does best. Gareth Evans sets out with the goal of taking us on an unexpected, scary journey, and he certainly succeeds. I’m going to be thinking about this film for a very long long time, or at the very least avoid secluded islands.
Apostle hits Netflix on October 12th!