Apostle review Michael SheenYear: 2018
Director(s): Gareth Evans
Writer(s): Gareth Evans
Region of Origin: US, UK
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 130 mins

Synopsis: In 1905, a drifter on a dangerous mission to rescue his kidnapped sister tangles with a sinister religious cult on an isolated island. (Source)

Well, wow. After completely reinvigorating the action genre, director Gareth Evans is back with another assault called Apostle. Not one to rest on his laurels, Evans this time trades the dark underbelly of Jakarta for an island of deranged cult disciples. The results are staggering. This is Evans’ unabashed take on horror, and it’s as brutal as you’d expect. It’s also his most subversive effort to date. This time out, the implications are deeper and the intimate moments contrast with bigger, harrowing depictions of savagery. Above all, Evans has transposed his singular style to a period piece bursting with intensity. Replete with performances that are both enigmatic and menacing, this film takes the genre to new heights.

It all begins with Thomas (Dan Stevens). We know little of him at first, other than he’s been long thought dead, and possibly losing a battle with his personal demons. Still grappling from an unknown trauma, he’s tasked with delivering a ransom for his abducted sister, Jennifer (Ellen Rhys). Making matters worse, Jennifer’s been taken by a cult, and they’ve sequestered themselves on an island hiding dangerous mysteries of its own. As Thomas secretly infiltrates the island and searches for his sister, grotesque secrets are brought to life, and its inhabitants grow more unstable by the minute.

Unlike most horror films, this one isn’t just racing from one scare to the next. Instead, Evans is building a complex and dangerous world from the ground up, pitting his characters up against unforeseen odds and seeing how they react to imperfect situations. There’s a gradual descent into madness that feels palpable and rooted in primal fears, but also a third act that isn’t afraid to bring the slaughter. As Evans carefully peels back layers, the story continually shifts and transforms, never becoming what we think it will. At the center of it all, is a damning exploration of faith, and the entitled men who’d abuse it for their own gain. It isn’t hard to see the parallels in our own political climate, but seeing a heightened version of it here drives everything over the edge and cements the film’s terror.

Apostle review Dan StevensBesides Evan’s smart, measured direction, the film works thanks to the commitment of its ensemble. As Thomas, Dan Stevens is all in. Stevens dials it up to 11 the entire way through, giving a performance that’s sincere and tortured. Opposite, Michael Sheen’s charismatic Prophet Malcom is an antagonist who makes his character rise above a generic stereotype. There’s a humanity to Sheen’s performance that brings an emotional weight that can’t be ignored. As Quinn, Mark Lewis Jones is downright vicious. He’s the reason the film’s third act hits so hard, and why it’s ultimately so cathartic. Meanwhile, Lucy Boynton gives the film a voice of reason with Andrea, portraying nuance and strength to balance out her male counterparts.

I can’t stress enough how horror fans will be both surprised and satisfied by the carnage on display here. Evans’ dark story is twisty and timely, taking genre elements and injecting them with a sense of urgency and vitality. Thankfully, there are no generic jump scares here, but a film that doesn’t pull any punches. From the stunning visuals, tragic mythology, and even a propulsive pace that never looks back, Apostle is a truly great horror film for those who’ve grown tired of the same ol’ song and dance. This proves that Evans isn’t just a one trick pony. He’s a director genuinely interested in studying the parallels between inner struggle and physical annihilation, and it makes for an unforgiving experience unlike anything else.

SG