3 out of 5
Directed by: Gareth Evans
Where’s our little Raid director? (Watches slick camera work that tracks characters as they’re thrown to the ground; notes the brutally crisp and dirty cinematography of Matt Flannery; hears the spell cast by sound maestros Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi; and, maybe most tellingly, watches with grit teeth mass in-camera violence afflicted via lots of impalings and stabbings.) …There he is!
While casual appreciators of Merantau and the aforementioned Raid may scratch their heads of director / writer Gareth Evans offering up a horror film, Evans’ followers can easily cite his V/H/S 2 entry or his debut Footsteps for his previous dabblings in the scene. And even if we assess Raid and Raid 2 whilst hunting for horror hallmarks, both of those flicks absolutely have elements of the genre weeded throughout.
And so: Apostle, in which lost-his-faith preacher Thomas (Dan Stevens) sneaks his way onto an island housing the cult-ish followers of their leader Malcolm, seeking to rescue the sister who has been kidnapped for ransom. Don’t pay the men, he’s instructed – one of several serious rules people in the film are offered without explanation – just get the girl back. While that might seem thin for supporting a two hour plus movie, the pointed out obliqueness of the guidance offered to Thomas is a (I’m supposing) purposefully unexplained element amongst several. This casts us as adrift as Thomas in discovering some of the ins and outs of the cult, and the hour long buildup to our rescue mission – not an outright spoiler, as there’s plenty more to build up to after that – stacks the deck evenly with weirdness and tension and curiosity and creeps. There are moments where Evans perhaps shows us more than needed, and a romantic subplot between some villagers that’s later used as a springboard to escalate events could likely have been handled in some more concise fashion that didn’t take us away from Thomas, who’s our narrative focal point, after all. And the inevitable downside of leaving a trail of mysteries is that only the perfect, unsaid explanation can actually put things together sensibly, and we don’t really know if that ‘perfect’ explanation exists; that is: there are some things that aren’t going to make too much sense.
But I didn’t regret that two hour runtime at any point, riveted to the screen and properly aghast when things start exploding into bloody, bloody violence, shot and scored with a very Evans in-the-moment grisliness.
Apostle is far from being a great film, but it’s very dedicated to keeping you immersed in its dirty, moral greys and vile oddities. And by golly, it very much succeeds.