REVIEW: Apostle (2018)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a short review of APOSTLE — Directed by Gareth Evans.

In 2011, Welsh director Gareth Evans rose to fame in the film community for his Indonesian action film The Raid: Redemption. After he had completed its sequel, Evans had become known for these elaborate and inventive action set-pieces. His latest film is not an adrenaline-fueled action film in the vein of his previous Indonesian efforts.

It won’t receive praise for martial arts combat, because it is nowhere to be found in his first film with Netflix — the period-piece horror film Apostle, which unites him with actor Dan Stevens, who also has experience with a popular action film (Adam Wingard’s The Guest).

Apostle takes place in the early 20th Century and follows an American man with a mysterious past, Thomas (played by Dan Stevens), as he travels to a remote island inhabited by a religious cult, which has kidnapped his sister and demanded a ransom for her release.

Thomas is instructed not to pay any ransom until he makes sure she is alive and well, which means he has to spend significant time among the brainwashed cultists led by Prophet Malcolm (played by Michael Sheen). But something is lurking in the wooded area of the island, and the cult’s traditions are suspect to say the least. Thomas soon learns that neither he nor his sister is safe from harm on the island that isn’t just inhabited by cultists.

I think the best way one can describe Apostle is to clue you in on its particular blend of cinema. Apostle feels like a mixture of The Wicker Man, Christophe Gans’ Silent Hill, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and, finally, Eli Roth’s Hostel. Some people will also be reminded of Shyamalan’s The Village and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, even though its truest link to Scorsese’s film is only revealed more than an hour into the film, but absolutely everyone will cover their eyes as Gareth Evans invites us to look upon tortured individuals and a slighted power-hungry mad man out for blind revenge.

Although overlong and unevenly designed, Evan’s Apostle never ran out of steam for me. I suspect some may not react well to how the film goes from being a fairly simple rescue mission to veering off into multiple directions, but I was hooked by the film’s mythology and a committed supporting performance from Martin Sheen that perhaps didn’t get the attention it merited.

That said, I did have some major problems with the film. I thought there were some inconsistencies with the brainwashed cult-members. But my biggest problem with the film is the lack of a true emotional investment in the sibling relationship that is at the center of the story.

We don’t truly get Thomas’ backstory until somewhere around the hourmark, and, although that backstory is presented with this very frightening and visually impressive scene, it does take too long for us to learn anything significant about our lead character. Generally, character plays second fiddle to shock, awe, and brutality in Apostle, a film about man-made manipulation of faith.

The fact of the matter remains that this is a sometimes slow period piece rescue mission — complete with solid production and costume design — that morphs into a horror fairy tale over the course of the film’s runtime, and, for those willing to accept that jump, the film becomes a glorious mess of intense violence presented with wicked camera movements.

Gareth Evans’ Apostle won’t be remembered for its writing, its mostly unmemorable characters, for its solid production design, or its interesting mythology, instead it will be remembered for possibly being the bloodiest and most violent successful Netflix Original Film yet.

7.9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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