A man journeys to an island that is home to a cult in an attempt to rescue his sister.
Gareth Evans, the director of this film, first caught my attention with his Indonesian action movies “The Raid” and “The Raid 2”; two films I would argue are among the best action films made in the last decade. This film is nothing like Evans’ action series, though it maintains the viscerally brutal nature that he displayed in his earlier films. “Apostle” is far darker; it’s a straight up horror movie- one that starts slowly, ramping up the tension and creating atmosphere until it suddenly shifts tone and becomes a harrowing journey through hell. This movie is not at all for the faint of heart; it has a scene that I would consider to be in the top five most messed up things I saw this year, but it is incredibly well-crafted, and there are times when it’s nigh impossible to look away. This movie shows that Evans is capable of some awesome things, and I honestly can’t wait to see more from him.
“Beware false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing…”
After receiving a ransom letter from his missing sister, Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens, “The Guest”) travels to an isolated island that is home to a cult led by the mysterious Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen, “Underworld”). Unable to immediately locate her, Thomas assumes a disguise and wanders among the cult, trying to remain undetected, while also uncovering the secrets of the island.
I’m going to say straight away that I will try vehemently to avoid giving any kind of spoilers for this film. If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, don’t watch it. Ninety percent of the fun of this film comes from not knowing what’s going to happen next, and being in the dark about the rituals and ways of this cult.
Some of the best parts of the movie were the world building moments. The way the secrets of the island are revealed is slow and deliberate, but Evans makes us wait with bated breath to see what’s next. At the same time, this film is never slow. While the movie is over two hours long, there is always something interesting or slightly off about what’s happening, enough to keep me on edge throughout, and continuously ramping up the tension. We’re constantly being shown new places around the island, and also learning more about the people involved. As I mentioned above, the first half of this film feels very atmospheric and mysterious, but the second half of the film is a straight up nightmare.
Evans has a great sense of visual direction- there are plenty of scenes where we follow Thomas around and experience things only from his perspective as he watches from the shadows. The result is always unsettling, and the way that Evans shot the film lends itself to feeling very voyeuristic- many times giving the scenes a slightly paranoid feeling. There are also a lot of really interesting sideways and upside down shots that actually really worked well in this film- usually repetitive upside down shots, or twisty-turny shots just make me sick. Here, the shots were used sparingly enough that they were still effective, and they actually improved on the cinematic language of the film in general. I actually really liked the color temperature throughout this film too- that’s not something I usually mention in my reviews, because I honestly don’t think about it that much unless it stands out to me. Here, the temperature constantly had the feeling of a stormy, overcast day, and it lent itself to the tumultuous nature of the story and people involved.
Another thing that I really like this movie was the production design. Again, I’m trying not to give too much away here, but there are sort of two different worlds we’re shown in this movie, and both of them are rather fleshed out and they look great. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, then you’re probably aware of my bias towards period pieces, and this is one of those films that just looks right up my alley. I love the gritty, dirty unwashed feeling of the homes and quarters in which the characters stay; I love the slightly tainted feeling that pervades the whole island, and I absolutely loved some of the stuff that comes towards the end. There were quite a few practical effects/bloody make up and gore effects in the second half of the film, and those were incredible brutal and also satisfying. I’m so sick of CGI blood spatters in film, and this movie has none of that- instead- everything is done with makeup or prosthetics and it is brutally intense. Some of the choreography of some of the scuffles later on in the movie are just as violent as the stuff we see in “The Raid” series, but this is also a horror movie, and the effects are often utilized to produce far more disturbing outcomes. I’ll emphasize again that this film is not for the faint of heart.
As far as acting goes, everybody did a pretty fine job. I couldn’t point to anyone and say they gave a bad performance. Dan Stevens was wonderful as Thomas Richardson; I’d much rather see him continue to do rolls like this or “The Guest”, than have him do another “Beauty and the Beast” (though, I didn’t think the remake was bad- I know I’m in the minority). Michael Sheen was fine too. Though, I feel like no matter what role I see Sheen in, he’s just Michael Sheen to me.
I personally really enjoyed this film, though I will admit it is right up my alley in terms of what I usually gravitate towards (period pieces, slightly messed up horror, twisted thrillers). I’ve liked everything I’ve seen by Gareth Evans and I’m hungry for more; his films are visceral and intense in a way that seldom other directors are, and with this entry he’s proven that he has more than just action films up his sleeve. Bring on whatever is next from Evans; I can’t wait.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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