Netflix's Apostle Review

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The Wicker Man meets The Guest

by Casimir Harlow Oct 12, 2018 at 10:58 AM

  • The Raid's Gareth Evans delivers a genuinely good little Netflix gem with the stylish mystery horror, Apostle.

    Welsh writer/director Gareth Evans, who brought the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat to the Big Screen through a trio of impressive martial arts films, including the seminal action movies The Raid and The Raid 2, changes gear for this Netflix outing, an unsurprisingly violent, period set, religious cult horror flick with a twist.

    A period set religious cult horror flick with a twist.

    It's 1905 and a drifter named Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) is brought in from the wilderness to do one last task for his estranged and broken father: rescue his sister, who has been kidnapped and held for ransom by a mysterious cult that inhabits a small island. Thomas travels to the island to find his sister, with express orders to remain hidden - and keep the ransom to himself - until he determines that she is still alive. Richardson is seemingly out of his depth against the might of the cult, with their strange practices of bloodletting, torture and execution, but the cult's determined leader, Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), soon realises that there is more to this mysterious stranger than meets the eye.

    Shot on a shoestring budget, The Raid was an exceptionally tense, stylish and well-staged action piece with some interesting characters, tremendous martial arts and a great score to boot. Evans took things to the next level with his epic sequel, showing what he could do with even just a little more backing.

    Apostle is admittedly a change of scenery, but Evans doesn't hold back in this new environment, giving life to his mysterious island, style to the bloody period violence, and enveloping the whole piece in (Dolby Vision-enhanced) darkness, with his lead actor, Dan Stevens, caught up in the middle of it all.

    Stevens enjoys yet another part that requires him to be more than a little bit crazy, blending his Legion character with the kind of determination we saw from him in The Guest. Despite kind of being pigeon-holed into these roles, he rises to the occasion here, chewing on every syllable and playing the part superbly as his character's past is slowly revealed.

    After the unrelenting violence of The Raid movies, it's no surprise to find Evans happy to engage in frequent and gruesome bloodletting.

    The story appears to be peppered with well-trodden beats - the island that nobody can leave; the young teen who gets pregnant, thus shaming her father; the mysterious pagan-esque God that everybody secretly worships; the stranger who tries to get in with the group - but Evans does a solid job piecing it all together as something that feels quite different. It hints at Wicker Man and nods to a lot of different tales of cults and period horror, but still feels fresh.

    A great score helps no end, alternating classic horror cues with more insistent percussion, whilst the cinematography picks up on some superb, elaborate shots - of burning flames in the background or overhead fields, all cock-eyed for the twisted 'purification'. Of course, after the unrelenting violence of The Raid movies, it's no surprise to find Evans happy to engage in frequent and gruesome bloodletting, well-choreographing a couple of really brutal fights and unabashed in his torturous instruments of death. It makes for painful but memorable watching, lending some visceral distinction to the already stylish piece.

    Netflix have had a few interesting efforts of late, particularly with more visceral, horror-themed work like Saulnier's Hold the Dark, and Apostle is another nice little gem for them to pick up.

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