Original Title: Apostle
Year of Release: 2018
Genres: Folk Horror, Supernatural Thriller
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Main Cast: Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Richard Elfyn, Bill Milner
2018 is a fascinating year for the horror genre: after a load of thrillers that relied on the “it was all a dream” trope, we are starting to get more and more filmmakers that aren’t afraid to reveal that yes, there are supernatural elements in their stories and they are not going to hide them. That happened with The Ritual and Hereditary, and now it happened with Apostle, and that makes me so happy because it shows more confidence in genre storytelling, embracing that films are fiction and do not always have to bend to the rules of reality.
Apostle is a film that I have been anticipating for quite a while: ever since I finished watching The Raid 2: Berandal in 2014, I have been aching to see what writer-director Gareth Evans would bring us next. His latest feature is as far removed from his Indonesian hardcore action-thrillers as can be: the film is set in 1905 on the fictional island of Erisden, where a man (Dan Stevens) has to infiltrate a mysterious religious cult in order to find and save his kidnapped sister.
Taking inspiration from classic folk horror films such as The Wicker Man, the first half plays as a very strong thriller, with a wonderfully twitchy and tense Dan Stevens who is constantly on the verge of being found out for who he really is. The more secrets he uncovers about this cult led by a charismatic and toned-down Michael Sheen, the more the film starts getting crazier and crazier. All the tension explodes in a third act that is as bloody and gruesome as it is exhilarating to watch, with horror elements that felt like the perfect blend of Silent Hill lore and Resident Evil thrills (a disturbing henchman looks like the chainsaw Majini from RE5). It was a true blast to watch, perfectly paced throughout, with enough elements of mythology that give you an idea of what is truly going on, without ever spilling it out. The only part storywise that I disliked was how we entered into the third act, with questionable character choices that you can see were made more out of necessity to move the story forward than real logic.
Dan Stevens plays a much different character from the ones we are used to, portraying an emotionally-drained man with a dark past and nothing left to lose. He is not afraid to play dirty, and right from the beginning of the film he does some morally questionable things that, while beneficial to him, usually are to the detriment of someone else. It makes for an anti-hero that is easy to relate to more out of the circumstances that he finds himself in, where his desperation and fear is quite palpable. The always-gorgeous Lucy Boynton (who I could never see outside of period films) is great as always, with Martin Sheen playing her father. He was quite a pleasant surprise, toning down what could have been an over-the-top performance (I was afraid he’d be like Guy Pearce in Brimstone), acting in a sympathetic and charismatic way as the leader of this community. Also noteworthy is Mark Lewis Jones, whose character is one you will learn to hate the more despicable acts he commits.
The cinematography by Matt Flannery (who shot all of Evans’ feature films) is stunning throughout the entire film, and the small moments of action that occur employ the same kinetic energy and style seen in The Raid films, which lends itself perfectly to the raw brutality of the scuffles. The bone-crunching is also quite terrifying, courtesy of the composers Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi (whose score is effective, albeit relying too heavily on string instruments to build tension). The Welsh location itself is quite gorgeous, and the houses built for the main village feel handmade and lived in, giving authenticity to the whole setting.
Overall, Apostle is one of many strong films being distributed by Netflix this year, showing that they are willing to invest on bigger and better projects by real auteurs. This is a thrilling film to watch, with excellent production values and a solid cast, managing to be engaging from beginning to end without losing steam, even though there are too many conveniences storywise that are bound to make most viewers roll their eyes.
Visual Effects: 8.5
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 3
Drugs & Profanity: 4
Intensity & Horror: 7