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Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Apostle

Director: Gareth Evans
Screenplay: Gareth Evans
Year: 2018

Recently, I saw the movie “Apostle” (a little late, I know), and I have spent a few days thinking about what the most appropriate way would be to tackle this review. In the end, I decided to just start writing and hope that, with some luck, you can understand what I mean. In “Apostle” a group of religious fanatics kidnaps a young woman with the idea of receiving a great deal of money as ransom, and they take her to a remote island where they have established a community. The brother of this young woman decides to travel to this island and integrate as another member to the community to try and rescue her, which leads him to discover the secrets of this group.

The folk horror subgenre, which has seen a comeback in the last years with highlighted movies like “The Witch”, explores pagan religions, especially those from Europe, which mostly come from the pre-Christian era. The premise of “Apostle” puts it right in this subgenre, or at least I thought it would be like that for the whole movie. The beginning of the movie centers in getting to know the principal character Thomas Richardson, interpreted by Dan Stevens (“The Guest”) and the fanatics that live in this island, as well as exploring the basis for their beliefs, and the religious apathy of Richardson, who was a Christian missionary until living a macabre incident. Soon it is clear that there is something strange in the way of thinking and acting from the inhabitants of the island, who have their faith centered in a god that, according to them, lives in this island and cares for their well-being. This faith is encouraged by the charismatic prophet of this deity, Malcom, interpreted by Michael Sheen (“Frost/Nixon”), one of the founders of the island. The acting of Stevens is excellent during the whole movie, serving as a pivot for the fluid movement of the plot, but is Sheen who stands out with sublime acting.

Now that I have brought up the fluidity of the movie, I will take advantage and expand on this. The plot moves in a pleasing slow and constant pace, without rushing anything, building the tension slowly to unleash it in a brutal third act. In this plot construction, it is impressive the attention to details of the director Gareth Evans (“The Raid”), who displays his talent in the visual department, as well as a writer. The visuals receive a substantial contribution from the great filming location selection, in the south of Wales, which scenic value aids to the sense of desolation and despair. “Apostle” is a gem in what narration and plot construction is concerned.

Making our way out from the second act and into the third is when the movie starts to get into other genres. While all the construction is done principally in the folk horror genre, since the turning point it starts to cross lines to the supernatural and gore genres. This last portion of the movie is where all the generated momentum is detonated in a spectacular blood bath, with scenes so graphic that they can result hard to watch. The effectiveness of these scenes, besides being very graphic and well crafted, resides in how the movie had flowed until that point. While there are some sparks of this graphic element, I never expected such gruesomeness. Even though I think of it as one of the most positive points of the movie, the way it is constructed can play against it due to the sudden mix of genres and this can be confusing. Also, some ideas are thrown in and end up without any explanation, which leads to inevitably wonder about their importance for the plot. Two questions that remain two obviously without answers is the origin of the worshiped god and how its power affects the island. Will this be explored in a sequel or prequel? We will see.

“Apostle” has been one of the biggest surprises of 2018. This movie did not cause much fuzz during its promotion but resulted in being one of the best of the year. It is a magnificent piece where storytelling, visual details, and acting stand out. Even with its previously discussed issues, it is a fresh idea that was excellently crafted. Netflix has managed to refresh horror movies with bold proposals such as this one and let’s hope that they continue this trend.

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