×
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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Bruce Springsteen arrives for the New

    Bruce Springsteen Returns to NJ Hometown for Surprise 'Western Stars' Introduction

    Bruce Springsteen returned to his hometown of Freehold, New Jersey to offer a surprise introduction to the first public multiplex viewing of his concert/documentary film, “Western Stars.” Dressed simply in a brown jacket, Springsteen took a moment to say a few words at the AMC Freehold 14 movie theater on Saturday night. “We knew we [...]

  • Backstage in Puglia del film SPACCAPIETRE:

    'Gomorrah' Star Salvatore Esposito Set For De Serio Twins' 'The Stonebreaker'

    Salvatore Esposito, the Italian star who plays young mob boss Genny Savastano in Italy’s hit TV series “Gomorrah,” will soon be hitting the big screen toplining upcoming drama “The Stonebreaker” by twin directorial duo Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio, who are known internationally for “Seven Acts of Mercy.” The De Serio twins are now in post on “Stonebreaker” [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Tops 'Joker,' 'Zombieland'

    “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is on track to give Disney another first place finish after scoring $12.5 million in Friday’s domestic ticket sales. If estimates hold, the Angelina Jolie-led film should finish the weekend with about $38 million — well below earlier forecasts but enough to top holdover “Joker” and fellow newcomer “Zombieland: Double Tap.” [...]

  • Maelle Arnaud

    Lumière Chief Programmer Maelle Arnaud: 'Film History Doesn't Have Parity'

    LYON, France   — As the Lumière Institute’s head programmer since 2001, Maelle Arnaud helped launched the Lumière Festival in 2009 and has watched it grow in international esteem over the decade that followed. This year, the festival ran 190 films across 424 screenings in theaters all over town. The festival will come to a [...]

  • Girl with Green Eyes

    Talking Pictures TV: Bringing the Past Back to Life in the U.K.

    LYON, France – Since its launch in 2015, Talking Pictures TV has become the fastest-growing independent channel in the U.K. with a growing library of British film and TV titles that span five decades, according to founder Noel Cronin. Noel Cronin attended the Lumière Festival’s International Classic Film Market (MIFC) in Lyon, France, where he [...]

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content