Released Oct. 12, 2018
Unrated (equivalent to R rating for graphic violence, horror imagery, and thematic elements) – 2hr 10min
Directed by Gareth Evans
Starring Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones
The year is 1905 and a strung-out junkie (Stevens) is recruited by his estranged father to recover his beloved sister who has been kidnapped and is being ransomed by a sinister cult entrenched on a remote island. Plagued by withdrawl and haunted by a tragic past, he must keep himself together as he goes undercover as a new initiate to devise some means of rescuing her before it’s too late.
Does that sound like a lot? That’s only the setup. One of the most narratively ambitious genre films in recent memory, Apostle aspires to be an outright folk horror epic.
In its ambition, Apostle is also one of the most loaded movies I’ve seen, of any genre, in a long time too. It is crammed full of plot, characters, secrets, deceptions, backstory, themes, and horror elements. If I didn’t know otherwise, I’d think it was an adaptation of a novel that was many hundreds of pages long. It would be preferable if it were, because that would be useful in filling in all the blanks that the film leaves behind.
The key problem here is pace, and that’s an odd thing to say considering the man behind both the camera and the script. Gareth Evans is best known as the writer/director of the whizz-bang hyper-action martial arts masterpieces The Raid Redemption & The Raid 2 – movies that certainly have no issues in that category. Yet with Apostle, Evans appears to have attempted a complete 180 with a slowburn gothic chiller set at the turn of the 20th Century featuring many of the things you might expect – a boat in a storm, wandering corridors with lanterns, creaky floorboards, antagonists fueled by religious zealotry, a fair maiden giving our hero the come-hither stare, creepy brainwashed villagers, and the whole place looking rustic as fuck. So what’s that problem I mentioned? That kind of movie tends to move slowly by design – an exercise in atmosphere that demands a deliberate and patient tempo. For the first hour, Evans does his best, but keeps adding to an ever-expanding list of plot points and roster of notable characters that, once we get into the back half, there’s simply no adequate way to bring it all together – we’re forced into a speed run, dropping a few things along the way in our haste, to bring the thing in at a hefty 130 minute runtime. He seems to be reluctant to let scenes breathe – instead of building mood, he wants to give us another name to remember or another detail to take in. I guess slowing down can be hard to do.
Another casualty of the bloated script is the character building. I really dug Dan Stevens in his starring role in Adam Wingard’s The Guest, but the charisma he had there is notably lacking here as the inconsistent protagonist Thomas. He likes drugs and is something of a pragmatic scoundrel who will absolutely sacrifice an innocent man, among other things, to achieve his objective, until he shares his tragic backstory with the kindly fair maiden Angela, risking everything to help him because he tingles her petticoats, and suddenly, he’s a noble hero…? No time to consider it really, because it’s difficult enough to keep everyone else’s names straight. I couldn’t tell Quinn and Frank apart until the home stretch, and they’re major characters. Then, there’s another character who I didn’t know where he came from, what he was supposed to be, or if he even had a name, but he was pretty integral too. The whole thing hurts my brain a bit, to be honest. At least when the horror elements were present, they were extremely solid, and that’s something to be appreciated.
This is an extremely good-looking movie though. Evans has got style and then some, and his cinematographer partner Matt Flannery is obviously very talented himself. His collaborating composers, Aria Prayogi & Fajar Yuskemal, write one hell of a horror score too. They all did excellent work together on The Raid films and that streak continues here. Holy shit though, that script needed some serious editing. Equal parts impressive and baffling, this film is hard to love or hate – it’s a miniseries trying to squeeze into size movie pants, and it rips a few seams in the process.
Apostle gets a