Sometimes the lines drawn by genres are so blurred it’s difficult to label a certain movie a singular genre. For example look at The Raid, another Gareth Evans’ film – to label this film as simply an action film you wouldn’t be wrong per say but you wouldn’t exactly be capturing the essence of everything the film entails. It’s guns and hand to hand combat which is absolutely an action film, no arguments here. However when you take into account for example how long a single fight scene lasts in that movie or how brutal these scenes are or to place the context of these encounters one could strongly contend that it’s not just an action film but in many ways a horror. It’s a good man thrown into a situation that forces him to be as inhuman as possible in order to survive. Sounds pretty horrific to me.
Apostle is at face value a horror film. When really examined though it can be labeled as horror yes but also a human drama about redemption. It can be labeled as a satirical look at religion and the toxicity of organized religious groups. Ultimately though, particularly due to the finale of the film, Apostle is unquestionably in the genre of horror. To sum up what I often say about horror films – if you can shock me with images, if you can get me to look away, as desensitized as the internet has made me, then you have succeeded at something at least in a visceral sense. This film might take its time to get there but when things take a turn it’s as brutal as anything you’ve ever seen in a movie. It will make you squirm, it will make you cringe in disgust (and delight) and make you question why in the hell you could possibly want to see more.
Dan Stevens stars in the most insidious version of fish out of water story you have ever witnessed. Gareth Evans brings the intensity of his Raid films and adds a healthy amount of horror elements that put Stevens’ character Thomas through the wringer. Think The Wicker Man with more religious inclinations and you’ve got an idea of what this is all about.
Often a film is split into three parts, a beginning where character and story are established, a middle where conflict acts as a proverbial monkey wrench, and the end where conflicts are resolved or evolved and characters changed either for the better or worse. With Apostle you could split it into three but I see it more as a two part story.
Part One: This is where character and story established like normal. However the entirety of the first half is spent convincing the audience that our protagonist is in his right mind. He is facing the rhetoric of a deranged cult whose teachings and practices often contradict one another. He is not a believer but must navigate among them, a spy trying to infiltrate and extricate his beloved sister from her abductors. As he pretends, the lengths at which he must go to hide grow, furthering himself from the promise of freedom. No matter his precarious situation he firmly plants himself in the realm of non-believer looking in at a bunch of hostile sheep who have found their psychotic shepherd. Once in place, everything is flipped on its head.
Part Two: At this point in the story, everything we’ve learned is skewed slightly or altered entirely. The people of this cult believe the unbelievable because of the dire situations they found themselves in on the mainland. With nowhere to turn they looked to a man that proclaimed acceptance and freedom in a self-made utopia isolated from the rest of the world. Naive these people may be, malicious intent was never part of the plan for them. As for their holy leaders anything for the preservation of their land is undoubtedly on the table. Sacrifice is their greatest weapon, their most useful tool to combat the so-called evils of the outside world. Wanting to maintain an illusion of prophetic behavior they carry out their evil deeds in the shadows and deep within the earth.
Despite his experiences at this point he still believes them to be disillusioned nutjobs. Suddenly things begin to change in such a fantastical, habitually atrocious manner that his knowledge of reality, of what’s actually possible, fall apart at an alarming rate. He witnesses the atrocities of man melding with the impossibility of ancient, true evil incarnate. Reality at this point is all a matter of perspective. These two parts culminate into a cluster of abhorrent violence, ritualistic sacrifice and inward reflection that asks who you are in moments of calm and who you are in moments of crisis.
Visually speaking Apostle is absolutely stunning. The cinematography is weightless as it glides over water with a spirit-like tranquility that is awe-inspiring. In contrast to the moments of pure nature euphoria are the unabashed moments of brutality, unforgiving moments captured in all their grotesqueness and visceral grit. You can feel the punctures, the stabs, the slashes and the exploding gunshots as they rip and mame flesh of every variety. It’s all the intensity of The Raid films with more emphasis on what these kinds of injuries might actually feel like.
The performances from the cast are stellar in their unforgiving desires or their repentant pleas in the face of eternity beyond this world. Dan Stevens is as convincing as ever, carrying the weight of a sheep in wolves clothing. Michael Sheen is charismatic and unpredictable as the ravenous cult leader hellbent on continuing their way of life. The supporting cast is equally enthralling delivering moments or pure terror and tension. There is a constant feeling that something wrong is going to happen at any moment, to anyone. Gareth Evans is a gifted storyteller conveying heightened but always authentic moments filled with complex characters and beautifully captured scenes in whatever form them come in; from the gorgeous to the terrible it’s presented convincingly and with absolute intent. Apostle can be a bit of a slow burn at times but is never without its tension and teasing of what’s to come. And what’s to come is unimaginable.
Now playing on NETFLIX.
Rated TV-MA For: Brutal, bloody, ritualistic violence, brief sexuality and drug use
Runtime: 130 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Starring: Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones
Directed By: Gareth Evans
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 4/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 4.5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: It’s on Netflix but should it ever be released, yes.
Check out the trailer below:
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