One of the biggest disappointments with movies is when everything is seemingly perfect on paper; the right experienced director, proven cast, good story, and strong cinematography and production design, but for some reason, none of it seems to fully come alive on screen. Apostle is exactly this type of film.
Synopsis: The year is 1905. Thomas Richardson travels to a remote island to rescue his sister after she’s kidnapped by a mysterious religious cult demanding a ransom for her safe return. It soon becomes clear that the cult will regret the day it baited this man, as he digs deeper and deeper into the secrets and lies upon which the commune is built. (Netflix)
Starring: Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, and Mark Lewis Jones
Writer: Gareth Evans
Director: Gareth Evans
Running Time: 130mins
Strangely borrowing large elements of The Wicker Man, Apostle centers around Thomas Richardson (Stevens), a former preacher who has been forced away from faith. Thomas ventures to a mysterious island in search of his kidnapped sister who is being held for ransom. Upon his arrival, he quickly realizes that the island’s inhabitants are made up of a strange religious cult whose livelihood revolves around worshipping the island’s Goddess. The town is run by the trio Prophet Malcolm (Sheen), Quinn (Jones) and Frank (Paul Higgins) all of whom keep the island’s secrets to protect it from outside intruders and those from within seeking to change their way of life at whatever the cost. It is only when Thomas starts to discover the island’s true purpose for himself that everything around him begins to show its sinister nature but the revelation comes too late into the film whereby your patience and attention will most likely have already waned.
As stated previously, on paper Apostle has the structure of a good film. Writer and Director Gareth Evans’ theme for how real horror lies in how far man is capable of going when intending to harm another comes across in an authentic manner throughout Apostle, however, its execution of these thematic elements seemed to be the biggest setback because at no point did they ever feel original.
This is not to say that Apostle didn’t possess some good qualities. The main actors’ performances, all of whom are experienced, did a solid job of filling in the emptiness that the film sometimes left around their characters. Dan Stevens has a unique way that is grounded inside his manic ticks and quirks that causes your attention to focus towards him anytime he’s onscreen no matter what he may be doing or saying. Michael Sheen is in a similar company as he delivers several of the film’s best monologues but who also seems to be giving a performance that he has done many times over in his sleep.
However, it was Mark Lewis Jones’ performance as Quinn that led him to be the most compelling character of Apostle. Sadly, his real performance doesn’t properly arrive until the latter half of the movie, but for me, he was one of the major redeeming qualities of the movie. Jones’ is part of one of the best scenes of the entire film as he attempts to “purify” a young boy who is bolted to a table by slowly turning a large screw into the top of the man’s skull all while delivering a chilling warning to those that are watching. Yes, it’s as brutal as it sounds. Again, therein lies the film’s problem because Apostle is rife with these compelling moments but even together they are not enough to comprise a good movie from start to finish.
The ingredients were there but the finished product was not. There were a few enjoyable parts in Apostle but overall, the semi-interesting story and the occasionally well-done performance just weren’t enough to entertain. The film’s attempt to create fear by examining the depths of man’s depravity instead of the usual paranormal elements were commendable but the end result never fully materialized which was disappointing and will leave viewers wanting more.