Over the last two years or so, Netflix has consistently been releasing original content, both tv series and feature films. Whereas the TV series have mostly faired well, the original feature film content has been somewhat of a hit-and-miss affair. Apostle is certainly a mixed bag, for it starts off as one thing, and concludes as something entirely different, and thankfully, it’s the film’s second half which saves it from completely becoming an utter bore.
The film follows a drifter, Thomas (Dan Stevens) who travels to a remote island to rescue his own beloved sister who has been kidnapped by a sinister religious cult demanding a ransom. Directed and written by Gareth Evans, the film is his first feature since his pair of The Raid action films, which received widespread acclaim.
For the first hour, the film feels uncertain of where it wants to go, or what it even wants to be. It gives off a rather gothic vibe, as Stevens’ character heads off on his voyage, reminding us of a Jonathan Harker-esque character (from Stoker’s Dracula), heading into the unknown. Evans would like us to believe that this is some type of Wicker Man homage, however, he doesn’t convince us too well. The first half seems to stumble. The mission has been set out clearly, yet it seems like forever until our lead character begins to act upon it. There is arguably too much exposition on the island, with Stevens’ character looking bewildered and baffled most of the time. It can’t be said that he delivers a thrilling performance in the slightest. Michael Sheen on the other hand, is terrific in whatever role comes his way, and in Apostle, he portrays Malcom, a mad prophet who leads the religious cult, to whom there is certainly more than meets the eye. It soon becomes apparent that their ideas on the sacred and the godless conflate with those around blood. There are some moments of horror and the grotesque in the first half, however, these aren’t near enough to grip the spectator. The film’s colour palate and visual aesthetic is established from the get-go and is sustained throughout, with Evans retaining only earthly greens and browns.
The true essence of the film comes into play with the film’s second half. It’s as if a rather different film is being watched entirely. Evans ignites the brutality and gore as it comes into the fore when he begins to explore notions of disobedience, forbidden love and desire, as well as sacrifice. It is in this portion of the film, that we are shown the closest thing we will get to a bloodbath from Evans, for there are scenes and sequences of torture and mutilation, whilst also introducing supernatural and fantastical horror elements. Some aspects certainly feel inspired by the imagination of Guillermo Del Toro, very much so from his fantasy feature Pan’s Labyrinth. The finale is chaotic and a display of barbaric savagery, with some impressive visual effects and rather stunning cinematography. It’s what makes this portion of the film a wild-ride.
At just over 2 hours long, Apostle is eager to be so many things. It’s all in all, an ominous and violent little story, with some visceral performances (certainly not Stevens), and stunning scenery, enhanced by the precise cinematography and musical score. An unsettling watch for sure, the crazy second half delivers much that will entice viewers, the rest, not so much.