Gareth Evans (The Raid) latest film, Apostle, reminds us of the weight that consequence of sin and heresy can bear. It’s a film that engulfs viewers in its unnerving atmosphere and keeps engaging, even as its’ pace seems sedated. This is in complete contrast to Evans previous films, most notably The Raid, as he subjects viewers to the haunting, and oftentimes gruesome, storytelling in exchange for the fast-paced, martial arts action feature. Apostle tells the story of Thomas Richardson (played by Dan Stevens) who travels to a secluded island in search of his sister, Jennifer, who has been kidnapped by an enigmatic cult that seek ransom in exchange for her release. The cult’s leader and co-founder, Malcolm Howe (played by Michael Sheen), suspects an infiltrator within their midst and carries out a series of trials in search of the imposter. Yet as the film progresses, we find that the island houses more than just the mysterious cult within its boundaries, something much more terrifying lurks amongst the people of the island.
As Thomas comes to witness rituals of bloodletting, as well as mysterious apparitions of an elderly woman, the secrets buried underneath the island begin to unfold, leading to a series of gruesome moments. Evans storytelling does not confine viewers to the violence of the film, but rather, it helps explore the story further. This is done effectively due to the film’s interpersonal relationships among characters as well as the intensity of the story. The brutality of the film is simply the icing on the cake. The film’s true horror lies within the characters and the effect that fundamentalist religion, or the cult, has had on these characters.
Within recent years in horror, we have seen a growing number of period films as a preferred method of storytelling; several examples include The Witch (2015), The Woman in Black (2012), and The Awakening(2011), just to name a few. Apostle takes advantage of the time period, set in 1905, in order to deliver a story that’s isolating as well as emphasising a period that was unforgiving. The world within Apostle feels authentic, offering its’ fair share of religious fervor and violence, fueled by the stellar performances of each cast member. As Apostle unravels, the audience will bear witness to motives that drive each character, giving the storyline much more substance and depth. In particular, Dan’s Steven’s performance is one to take special notice as a man who’s at odds with himself and the rest of the world. His character, Thomas Richardson, not only battles his inner demons of drug addiction, but his conviction that purity solely exist in his sister, Jennifer, drives him to push beyond his limits in rescuing her. Thomas shares this insight with Andrea Howe, cult leader Malcolm Howes daughter (played by Lucy Boynton), stating, “The promise of the Divine is but an illusion. Nothing in this world is pure… except for Jennifer, my sister.”
Apostle is anything but transparent. Although the story spends the first act at a slow pace, Evans uses every detail in Apostle to reveal more of the plot and it’s characters. Thankfully to this strategy, Apostle is a well-thought, constructed film that analyzes the horrors of not only religious fanaticism, but the journey of rediscovering one’s own faith and belief in something profound, beyond our own limitations of existence. Apostle will not only cater to horror fans, but those seeking a thriller or perhaps those more drawn to the supernatural will find something to enjoy in this film. It’s an engaging experience that blends several themes of horror, from the atmospheric terrors of an isolated island to the violent nature of man, Apostle is a film to appreciate and enjoy. So check it out. It’s on Netflix.
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