October 29, 2018 Apostle (Movie Review)
Netflix has really upped its game with Horror over this past year with mostly good results. One of their latest offerings, Apostle, became available globally on Friday, October 12th. It is a British film directed by Gareth Evans (Merentau 2009, The Raid 2011) that mixes horror and mystery in a period piece set in the beginning of the 20th century. So, does Apostle have anything good to offer?
Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens: Beauty and the Beast 2017, Downton Abbey series) is a former Christian missionary who is traveling to a remote Welsh island to get back his sister, Jennifer (Elen Rhys: Season of the Witch 2011, World War Z 2013), who was kidnapped by a mysterious cult for ransom. The cult is a closed society much like one would expect and is led by the charismatic Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen: Underworld series, Kingdom of Heaven 2005). Howe possesses the bombast and public speaking talents of an evangelical preacher, but it is clear from the start that something is not right about the entire place. Thomas soon finds out that The small island’s crops are failing and the cult does not have the resources to maintain whatever it is that keeps the land fertile. This was the reason for Jennifer’s kidnapping.
Whatever is keeping the land fertile is a secret that the cult will go to great lengths to protect. We are shown Thomas piecing together the mystery from various strange seeings and events – cult members practicing bloodletting in secret, strict curfews for everyone on the island – that don’t make much sense until the second half of the film. What makes the mystery exciting is that Thomas is operating clandestinely throughout, and must blend in as a pilgrim seeking a new life while sneaking about looking for his sister and navigating through increasing social tensions within the cult.
Tonally, Apostle is a bit all over the place and while the mystery is solid for the first half, it loses its shine in the second. The Horror elements are ramped up here and while they look good as well as have some genuine scares, it feels a bit off center compared to the slow burn feel that came before it. The film does not explain certain things by the end. For some of those things, like what exactly the secret is are fine, but others such as what happens at the end are not. It feels incohesive, and, combined with the lengthy runtime, may have viewers questioning if the journey was worth it.
The performances are all good but the characters are more archetypes than they are interesting. This would not be such a negative without the discombobulated final arc of the story. There is more to be desired with certain aspects such as the quick breakdown of the societal order of the cult and mutiny, and the brutality of the second half begs the question of how they were able to hold themselves together in the first place.
Additionally, the camerawork is very good and despite the problems in plot and tone, delivers some excellent thrills throughout the film. One particular sequence when Thomas has to sneak into a forbidden area to further his investigation is fraught with desperation and is probably the scariest part of the film. Even a crude cave painting of the village history is scary. The violence is likewise done well, and will satisfy hardcore Horror fans by the end.
Overall, Apostle does a lot of things well but does not quite know how to fit it all together into one flowing work. It feels like maybe the writers thought about sticking with the slow burn but changed their minds too late into the story, and as a result it stumbles to its ending while relying on several standout moments rather than cohesive story to see it through. Apostle is recommended, but potential viewers should be aware of a 2 hour run-time before investing their time. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives this film 3 out of 5 stars.