×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Apostle’

'The Raid' director Gareth Evans tries his hand at Victorian horror, delivering what feels like an unholy cross between 'The Wicker Man' and Francis Ford Coppola's 'Dracula.'

Director:
Gareth Evans
With:
Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens, Elen Rhys
Release Date:
Oct 12, 2018

2 hours 9 minutes

Official Site: https://www.netflix.com/title/80158148

After a failed first feature that practically no one saw, Welsh director Gareth Evans traveled all the way to Jakarta to jump-start his career, helming a stunning trio of whiplash-fast action movies featuring the Indonesian martial art of silat — “Merantau,” “The Raid” and “The Raid 2” — that established him as a cutting-edge choreographer of break-yo’-face beatdowns. Turns out that’s not all he can do, not by a long stretch.

Gopher-bombing whatever pigeonhole Hollywood might’ve stuck him in, Evans has found his way back to the British Isles, switching genres entirely with “Apostle,” a Gothic horror mystery that’s less like an adrenaline shot to the heart than a rusty, hand-cranked drill to the skull. Just in time for Halloween, Evans eschews his signature brand of hyper-kinetic pugilism in favor of suspenseful, long-fuse mind games, offering the growing cult of Netflix subscribers this stylishly deranged black mass, which plays like an homage to “The Wicker Man” (the 1973 original, not Nicolas Cage’s notorious 2006 “bee movie“ remake) with better costumes, creepier customs, and a lot more blood.

In a forbidding corner of his native Wales, Evans invents the fictional isle of Erisden, a barely arable — and even less civilized — patch of far-flung turf where a false prophet named Father Malcolm (Michael Sheen, eyes blazing with lunatic fervor) has assembled a congregation of outcasts. So committed are Malcolm’s followers that they are willing to open their veins at his command, bleeding into jars in order to appease some unseen (for now) pagan goddess. Clearly, we’re dealing with some kind of cult here — but at least they believe in something, which is more than can be said of Thomas (Dan Stevens), a deeply scarred former missionary who surrendered his faith when the going got tough (he’s like the horror-movie version of Andrew Garfield’s soul-searching apostate in “Silence,” forced to confront the alternative to the God he abandoned).

If left to his own devices, the well-to-do Thomas would spend his days wallowing in opium dens, smoking away the damage of what his eyes have witnessed. Instead, he’s shaken from his stupor when his family receives a troubling letter from Erisden. Turns out, his sister Andrea (Lucy Boynton) is being held for ransom there, and so Thomas is dispatched — like Keanu Reeves in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” or so many turn-of-the-century literary heroes before him, a dandy unprepared for what lies ahead — to investigate her fate, and to make sense of the quasi religion Malcolm is using to hypnotize his followers.

Tantalizingly rich in atmosphere and altogether unhurried in revealing its secrets, the evocatively shot, ultra-widescreen “Apostle” will eventually veer into dark, mercilessly supernatural territory. Doing so lends a certain amount of credibility to the heathen community’s off-the-wall beliefs, which are based in forces that rational science can hardly explain, although there can be no question that neither Malcolm nor his power-hungry would-be successor Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones) truly understand how to deal with the wrathful “god” of whom they consider themselves the sole custodians.

In the meantime, Evans examines the rituals of Erisden through Thomas’ skeptical eyes, zeroing in on the way Malcolm manipulates his flock. As a genre, movies that deal with the threat of emerging cults not only present scary, satanic alternatives to organized religion but also remind that all orthodoxies had to start somewhere, potentially raising doubt about the foundations of more established faiths. (How different is the practice of ritual bloodletting  from the Catholic sacrament of consuming the body of Christ?)

That’s a deeply unsettling subtext for a film that thrusts its lead character into unknown jeopardy: Thomas is a charlatan among zealots, trying to pass as one of them with little or no knowledge of what they practice. In one of the more terrifying scenes, Malcolm knows the island has been infiltrated and calls all of the new (male) arrivals to the chapel, where he asks them to recite passages from a gospel Thomas hasn’t bothered to memorize. If discovered, the impostor will be murdered on the spot.

Stevens is the only person here who looks remotely heroic,although he isn’t really cut out for the dramatic arc that lies ahead for his character, overplaying Thomas’ wide-eyed alarm and cheap-trick substance abuse to cartoonish, Bruce Campbell levels. Despite the very real threat of being found out, Thomas forges ahead in his attempts to locate Andrea — made all the more dangerous by his discovery of a young couple who’ve been carrying on a love affair in secret (this red-herring subplot, featuring Bill Milner and Kristine Froseth, seems to echo M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village”), as well as his percolating attraction to Malcolm’s daughter Jennifer (Elen Rhys).

Technically, any one of these characters could prove to be the ally Thomas needs to survive a test the likes of which he cannot imagine. But by the time he comes face-to-face with the island’s bloodthirsty deity, all bets are off. Early on, as Evans establishes a dark flip side to the spirit of Edwardian enlightenment, the horror seems to be based in the groupthink of ignorant, easily impressionable souls. But what if what these superstitious Erisdenians aren’t entirely crazy? That’s where “Apostle” delivers something cult-centric cult movies like “The Wicker Man” and “Kill List” never could: It can break from reality and actually confront the source of their pagan beliefs.

Film Review: 'Apostle'

Reviewed at Wilshire Screening Room, Los Angeles, Oct. 1, 2018. (In Fantastic Fest.) Running time: 129 MIN.

Production: (U.S.-U.K.) A Netflix release of an XYZ Films, Netflix Original production. Producers: Gareth Evans, Ed Talfan, Aram Tertzakian. Executive producers: Nate Bolotin, Nick Spicer.

Crew: Director, writer: Gareth Evans. Camera (color, widescreen): Matt Flannery. Editor: Gareth Evans. Music: Aria Prayogi, Fajar Yuskemal.

With: Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens, Elen Rhys, Kristine Froseth, Bill Milner, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones.

More Film

  • 'Fausto' Review: Andrea Bussmann's Beautuful, Inscrutable

    Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Fausto'

    In more ways than one, “Fausto” is a film that likes to keep its audience in the dark: The bulk of its imagery is thickly cloaked in velvety night, often barely illuminated but for pinpricks of moonlight or a flickering candle, sometimes to the point where viewers must strain and squint to identify what they’re [...]

  • Toy Story 4

    The 15 Best Films of 2019 (So Far)

    By now, audiences have caught on to the way American distributors tend to stockpile their quality movies for end-of-year award-season release, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t treasures to be found in the first two quarters. In fact, sometimes it’s the movies that aren’t making a self-important Oscar push that wind up hitting closest to [...]

  • Chris Hemsworth (H) with Em (Tessa

    'Men In Black: International' Taking in $26 Million Amid Franchise Fatigue

    North American moviegoers spurned sequels this weekend with Sony’s “Men in Black: International” heading for a modest $26 million debut while “Shaft” will finish with a dismal $7.3 million in seventh place. “Men in Black: International,” the fourth iteration of the sci-fi comedy franchise, is performing under expectations, which had been in the $30 million [...]

  • Night scenery of the Bund in

    Shanghai Festival Defies Gloom to Open on Upbeat Note

    The Chinese film industry may not yet have emerged from a “cold winter” production freeze, nor its box office kept pace with 2018. But but those inclement elements did not put a chill on the pageantry at the Shanghai International Film Festival. The opening ceremony for the festival’s 22nd edition went ahead Saturday with the [...]

  • Franco Zeffirelli Dead

    Franco Zeffirelli, Director of 'Romeo and Juliet,' Dies at 96

    Franco Zeffirelli, the stylish and sometimes controversial theater, opera and film director, has died. He was 96. Zeffirelli, who was Oscar-nominated for his 1968 version of “Romeo and Juliet,” died at his home in Rome at noon on Saturday, his son Luciano told the Associated Press. “He had suffered for a while, but he left [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content