REVIEW: Apostle (2018)

Year: 2018
Directed by: Gareth Evans
Starring: Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Richard Elfyn, Paul Higgins, Lucy Boynton

Written by Jo Craig

There is a rare moment after watching a film where you sit and stare at the credits, or even pause them rolling altogether whilst wearing a perplexed expression. Your brain frantically tries to decipher the last couple of hours you’ve spent watching a feature that carries its pros and cons, but leaves you with the hanging expression: “What the fuck?”. Gareth Evans’ Apostle hit Netflix at the start of Halloween season, and my thoughts are still stuck inside his brutal cult horror that had an avid gore fan glancing away to “take a moment”.

The premise of Apostle lies in the early twentieth century, following infiltrator Thomas (Dan Stevens) as he travels to a remote island to rescue his sister who has been taken hostage by a religious cult. Lead through blinding faith and insanity, Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen) demands her rich father to pay a ransom so his sect can continue to thrive in their segregated habitat, but Thomas soon uncovers a larger plan at work that explains the devotion of Malcolm and his followers.

Only viewing the trailer last month, I was giddy to see Apostle arrive on our favourite streaming platform so soon to let the grim rituals begin. Grim stood as a massive understatement by the end of Evans’ Welsh folktale (in stripped-back terms) that is rich in exposing the evil behind religious loyalty but perhaps suffers in its colossal leap to explain the abnormal. By the end, I was exhausted. Not surprising from the director of The Raid (Apostle being Evans’ first English language film since his first feature Footsteps) where his joint effort in direction and penning is admirable and driven with enough force to support the unforgettable scenes of the macabre.

Dan Stevens has had quite a genre shift from his recent silver screen entries (Beauty and the Beast, The Man Who Invented Christmas) making his role in Apostle surprising for the charming actor whose dabbling with horror only reached the extent of his fantastic cult superhero show Legion. Nevertheless, Stevens is first class and full of expression, whose piercing blue eyes are a character in themselves; Wide in terror on top a blood-soaked body was so visually effective and his permanent furrowed brow resembled my face as the plot thickened. Michael Sheen brought a powerful performance to witness as the proud prophet who was certainly a grounding character to hold on to as the waves of fantasy swept in to aggravate an already seasick stomach.

Undoubtedly gripped by every slow building scene in the first hour – too engrossed, in fact, to even recognise a thirst that had been developing while my jaw grazed the floor – Evans’ understanding of suspense has to be applauded. The raw brutality – that you would expect from his direction – tangled with threads of hyperbolic lore may be the gigantic leap of faith that some viewers won’t be willing to take. Personally, the added mythical element restrained a considered tale from being nothing more than a mindless gore-fest that you’d expect from Eli Roth. Instead, Apostle resembles (at points) greats like The Wicker Man that build on the terrifying feeling of isolation and play on belief and faith in various different ways pertaining to which character has the spotlight. In an abstract way of thinking, the tale’s progression could emulate bible chapters as they introduce each character and acknowledge their beliefs whether for or against the unorthodox civilisation they have ended up living in, further proving that Evans has a sound method behind the madness.

Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal’s tour de force score holds your attention in a vice even from the title screen with a resounding ambience that is deliberately too loud to ignore. A series of haunting choirs and screeching strings (reminiscent to Mother!) only drives the audience into a deeper state of discomfort that supports Evans’ crippling tension and the religious nature of the premise. As you hear every overwhelming roar of instruments, Yuskemal’s sound design never lets you miss a crunch of bone which adds credence to Evans’ skilful decision-making as a horror filmmaker.

This dark crusade will no doubt divide audiences and troublesome psyches as it’s not for the faint-hearted, but although fantasy and horror are mixed and often overpowering in the denouement, its hold over you never slackens despite its lengthy runtime of 130 min. It’s not the likeliest of films to end up on your Halloween marathon nor a film that I would revisit in the near future, but regardless of possibly being the heaviest film of the year, Apostle respectively thrives in its originality.  If being squeamish is your downfall, then forcing yourself through the torture of watching an albeit, for lack of a better term, thought-provoking horror, is pointless and conclusively a feature you can afford to miss.

Jo’s Verdict:

3-5

                              

Watch this Space #4

We’re coming in hot this weekend with some new staff picks to make your streaming time interesting! This week’s selections come from all points of the spectrum as we recommend stories of thrill, ones with heartfelt gut-punches, and one’s that delightfully pass the time. Let us know what you’re eyeing on this list or if you’ve had the pleasure of seeing one or two of these spectacular finds!

Paddington (Paul King, 2014)

Amazon Prime UK, Netflix US/ UK

Paddington. Oh, what a lovely film indeed. For someone who, to the best of his knowledge, wasn’t all that big on the duffle coat wearing bear as a youngster, the cute little bugger won me over in the first 10 minutes of his live action outing.

There’s an insatiable British charm that runs through the entirety of Paddington, injected into the witticisms of the heartwarming bear and his surrounding ensemble. This includes, but isn’t limited to, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman and Peter Capaldi. But the success of the film lies most of all within Ben Whishaw’s sublime vocals as the titular hero. Polite, self-assured and hilariously innocent, he brings the bear to life in a way I didn’t think possible.

It bears much similarity plot wise to underrated dog-flick, Beethoven, but there’s a level of admirable ambition in elevating this to a larger than life, sweeter than marmalade adventure that will have adults and kids wiping away tears of laughter in equal measure. And don’t get me started on Paddington 2, that’s an even bigger treat.

— Cameron Frew

 

Thunder Road (short) (Jim Cummings, 2016)

Vimeo

My recommendation this week will only take 12 minutes of your time, but I genuinely can’t recommend it enough. Thunder Road is written and directed by Jim Cummings, a chap we were lucky enough to interview recently following the premiere of the feature-film adaptation of this short at BFI’s London Film Festival. The short focuses on Officer Jim Arnaud, who is about to make a speech at his mother’s funeral. Cummings’ depiction of his character’s grief is truly heartbreaking to watch, and yet, he manages to add some heartwarming comedy into his performance that almost made me feel bad for smiling at. I don’t really want to say any more about the short as it’s best to watch it all first hand and witness the grief-stricken officer deliver his eulogy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed the feature-film adaptation secures some form of UK distribution because my jealousy for those who’ve watched it at this year’s LFF is reaching dangerous levels!

— Tom Sheffield

 

Apostle (Gareth Evans, 2018)

Netflix UK/ US

If you’re thinking of assessing your squeamish meter this Halloween, then Gareth Evans’ Apostle might just be the challenge to put your stomach to the test, or bestow a psychological break on whichever poor soul you convince to watch it with you. Determined and never without his furrowed brow, Dan Stevens must save his sister from captivity on an isolated island inhabited by a religious cult lead by Michael Sheen’s prophet.

Brutal and dripping with grunge, Apostle contests with the big torture porn players but is laced with myth and fantasy that distances itself from the likes of Hostel while displaying stellar performances from Stevens and Sheen. Evans’ slow burning tension around a contest of beliefs is reminiscent with The Wicker Man and The Witch with one eye-widening finale that takes an early twentieth century folktale through the meat grinder.

— Jo Craig

 

Private Life (Tamara Jenkins, 2018)

Netflix UK/ US

This superbly sharp dramedy is guaranteed to tickle your funny bone with its wholesome humour and endearing awkwardness. But beware, there are plenty of gut-punching moments waiting to hit you, whether you like it or not – which I guess you could say is testament to the way the film portrays the authenticities of adult life. Both Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn give career-best performances, and clearly thrive in this more grounded, raw setting. Alongside them, breakout star Kayli Carter shines, offering up much of the great comedic moments in this little indie treat.

— Jakob Lewis Barnes

 

Minding the Gap (Bing Liu, 2018)

Hulu

In a year of stellar documentary viewings to pick from, Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap uncovers some of the hardest truths in domestic violence and young teen culture. With a caring eye and ear to listen, Liu chronicles 12 years in the lives of his and two friends’ upbringing in turmultous homes. From the emotional scars of trauma to the side effects of growing out of it, the documentary digs deep and looks for answers.

One obvious haven for these young men is how the escapism of skateboarding all these years has helped them retain a foundation of trust, fun, and safety from the bad. It’s one thing to leave home for the day and forget about the worries, it’s another thing to grow up and examine the person you’re becoming in part due to your childhood. Minding the Gap just picked up a Gotham Awards nom for documentary and it surely deserves it. Go find it!

— Jessica Peña


Be sure to give us a shout over on Twitter if we’ve twisted your arm into watching any of the above this weekend. Feel free to share your streaming recommendations with us too!