Apostle review – a superbly crafted horror film

by | 12 Oct 2018

‘In 1905, drifter Thomas Richardson goes on a dangerous mission to rescue his kidnapped sister from a religious cult on a remote island.’

Gareth Evans, director of the excellent Indonesian martial arts films The Raid (2011) and its sequel, slows it right down for his latest movie Apostle, which is released as a Netflix Original. Purposefully and deliberately paced, it’s unlike anything he has done before, showing he’s not one to be pigeon-holed. Set in the early Twentieth century, the story follows wayward son Thomas (Dan Stevens) to an isolated island. Home to a strange cult, its leader Malcolm (Michael Sheen) has kidnapped Thomas’ sister for a ransom. Once there Thomas begins to unravel the mystery of this strange place and find a way to rescue her.

‘Keeping jump scares to the bare minimum, this isn’t a conventional horror movie.’

David Axcell

Although a new genre for Evans, he does a brilliant job with this very Gothic horror movie. Completely different in tone and style to his more action-packed films. Apostle is still an accomplished and effective piece of film-making. Not only directing, but as the writer, he also brings something new to this increasingly popular sub-genre that delves into the world of cults. He combines a mystery element to the plot, where you’ll be guessing alongside Thomas as to what is really going on with this strange community.

It’s very reminiscent of the classic Wicker Man (1973).

In which it shares similar themes like spiritual belief and the potential destructiveness off organised religion. When it comes to that exploration it’s not very subtle, but as the story progresses, Evans adds something different to this unusual sect. Likewise, it has something to say about mankind’s abusive relationship with the environment, and how all these things can sometimes be related.

Visually, this is a very gloomy affair, and with some chilling cinematography, will efficiently do its job of getting under your skin. The location itself is appropriately shot, as to fill the audience with as much dread as possible. With all the colour drained out of the screen, this is a dead land, and there is nothing more unsettling than being surrounded and alone in the woods. Having a great location at hand, Evans gets the most out of the period setting, with everything feeling tangible and authentic. This is a physical world that’s been created and it all goes into making the story really compelling.

‘As a horror film, it’s the disturbing and gruesome imagery that will plague your mind the most.’

Through these visuals, Evans is able to build a foreboding atmosphere that will feel very oppressive, and keep your nerves on high alert. Bloody and graphic it will also have you squirming in your seats. Certain sequences are filmed in a way that will equally keep the tension high. Combined with a subtle and unnerving score, it will keep things suspenseful, having you looking at the screen between your fingers. Keeping jump scares to the bare minimum, this isn’t a conventional horror movie. Evans is able to keep it scary through mood alone and not resort to cheap shock tactics.

Contributing to all this fear-inducing ambience are some excellent and engaging characters. Written with an extremely traumatic backstory, Thomas makes for an interesting protagonist. He’s been hardened by past experiences and is a bruised man. Yet his love for his sister reveals a softer side, and his desire to rescue her makes him someone you can easily root for. Stevens proves competent in bringing all these nuances of the character to life, which will help viewers want to see Thomas succeed. What’s more, he has good chemistry with Lucy Boynton’s character Andrea, who he sees as a kindred spirit.

As the villains of the piece, Sheen and Mark Lewis Jones also do great work as two of the cult founders.

Sheen in particular is apt in bringing a few extra layers to his performance. Able to add sincerity to Malcolm, his character actually believes in what he teaches but is someone who has lost his way. Jones is the real monster, and he really pours himself into this jealous and despicable individual, being someone you’ll really want to see get his comeuppance.

‘Showing he’s no one trick pony, Apostle is proof that Evans is far more than an action director. A superb horror film that has something to say, this is not just entertainment but true craftsmanship. With three dimensional characters, an engaging mystery story and terrifying visual imagery, it’s another smartly made scary movie not long after this year’s equally excellent Hereditary.’

Film Details

18 · 2h 9m · 2018.

Genre

Horror · Mystery · Thriller.

Cast

Dan Stevens · Kristine Froseth · Lucy Boynton · Michael Sheen.

Director

Gareth Evans.

Writer

Gareth Evans.

Cinematography

Matt Flannery.

Editing

Gareth Evans.

Music

Aria Prayogi · Fajar Yuskemal.

Contains

strong bloody violence.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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