The Mission Meets The Wicker Man in The New Film From the Director of The Raid
In 2011 Gareth Evans burst onto the festival circuit and into the hearts of action film lovers with his martial arts masterpiece The Raid: Redemption. In 2014 he gave audiences The Raid 2 and solidified his reputation as a master of the action genre. So, it’s only natural that the Welsh writer/director would choose to expand his repertoire and branch out into new genres. He does so with mixed results in Apostle, his new film for Netflix that premieres on the streaming service on October 12, 2018.
Like so many supernatural cult films that preceded it, Apostle opens with Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) receiving word that his sister has been abducted by a religious cult, and they are demanding a ransom to be delivered by Thomas’ father. The patriarch of the Richardson clan is too infirm to undertake the adventure, so Thomas agrees to rescue his sister. However, he has no intention of paying a ransom to likely then be murdered by his sister’s abductors. So he formulates a plan to infiltrate the cult as a prospective member.
When Thomas arrives at the island off the coast of Wales, he encounters Prophet Malcom (Michael Sheen), the leader of the cult who washed ashore years early following a catastrophe at sea. Prophet Malcom is convinced that he was spared for a reason, and he and his followers have worshipped an earth goddess, a true Mother Nature of sorts, ever since. However, all is not harmonious within the cult as Prophet Malcom frequently butts heads with his fellow castaway, Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones).
What follows is a mash-up of The Mission, other films about spreading religious faith, The Wicker Man and other films about nature-worshiping cults that warp traditional religion into a brand of witchcraft. And as interesting as that may sound to the right horror film fan, the end product is not as satisfying as the sum of its parts might suggest.
The tonal shifts in Apostle are abrupt and confounding. Torturing a wayward cult member by medieval machinery gives way to a Pan’s Labyrinth-style monster with a beehive for a head stalking Thomas. Brother Malcom’s dream of forming a better society is quickly superseded by one murder after another orchestrated by the cult leadership. The whole film goes flying off the rails in the third act in a delirious free-for-all that features more “endings” than The Return of the King.
The acting is likewise a very mixed bag. Dan Stevens is most in his element when he isn’t called on to be overly expressive (The Guest). When his Thomas is under duress, his wide-eyed crazed looks are reminiscent of Cary Elwes in the Saw films, and after seeming so docile through the majority of the film, it’s almost laugh-out-loud funny when Thomas puts a sudden Raid-style beat down on a few of the cult’s guards. If Thomas can fight like that, this movie could’ve been over in the first thirty minutes.
The highlight of the film, and the primary reason to watch it, is the performance of Mark Lewis Jones as Quinn. His transformation during the film from sidekick to would-be usurper is nothing short of electrifying. When he speaks, it’s as if the rest of the cast disappears from your notice. He commands the screen during his every scene. If nothing else, here’s hoping his work in Apostle puts him on the radar of other filmmakers.
Apostle is an “eye of the beholder” type of film. If you like Gareth Evans’ previous work, you will want to judge it for yourself. Just bear in mind, it is a horror film, not an action extravaganza. The audience at Fantastic Fest 2018 seemed divided on the film. Some loved it and left enthralled. Others, including me, thought it was an interesting idea that ultimately devolves into silliness.