Gareth Evans’s Apostle is a slow-burn horror/thriller which patiently drills its images and themes into your head. Part Wicker Man, part Hostel, part The Secret of Kells (really), the film truly takes its time, even as its mysteries are revealed in fairly early and conventional ways, culminating in a frenzied gore-fest of a third act akin to Evans’ earlier film, The Raid: Redemption. Where The Raid utilized the bare minimum of plot to create a hyper-kinetic onslaught of violent action (I found it to be a numbing, draining experience), Apostle goes the other route by creating a fairly convoluted narrative with various intersecting plot lines, never quite managing to effectively weave the different strands together into a coherent whole.
The film opens with a letter being read: a young woman has been kidnapped and held for ransom by a religious cult living on an island off the coast of Wales. Her brother, Thomas (Dan Stevens), must find a way to infiltrate the cult’s community, reach his sister, and escape with her safely. Led by the prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), the island-dwellers appear to only seek religious and political freedom for themselves, though there is, of course, some sort of sinister secret behind this utopian life. Thomas’s own background is equally enigmatic; “I thought you were dead” says the acquaintance reading the ransom letter aloud for him, implying a previous lifestyle of violence. When we learn of Thomas’s origins as the titular apostle–a supposed messenger from God–it fits well within the film’s exploration of idolatry and deification. Human beings were created for worship; if we aren’t worshiping God, we’ll find other persons or places for our devotion, both the fanatical and fantastical.
Apostle aims to examine these worshipful longings, but while it’s morally the deepest of Evans’ films, it’s all still quite surface-level and conventional, both formally and narratively. Parallel to Thomas’s search for his sister is a budding romance between a young couple, Jeremy (Bill Milner) and Ffion (Kristine Froseth), the children of Malcolm’s two cronies, the demure Frank (Paul Higgins) and the demonic Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones). It is Jones’s performance as Quinn which surprised me the most about Apostle–silent and gruff, mostly in the background, he explodes into the final act with a ferocity and verve that I simply did not see coming, in the best possible way. Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) is good as Malcolm’s daughter and Thomas’s helper, and Stevens is very good playing the semi-unhinged protagonist; his performance here is akin to his role in The Guest as a mysterious man arriving to town with dubious motives.
It’s unclear who the true antagonist will become in Apostle, and it takes its time to get there; at 130 minutes, it feels about 45 minutes too long for its ideas and images. There are many times in its mythology and world-building which simply don’t work; when we fully learn of the source of the island’s secret power, many previous scenes make little sense, albeit one may excuse this via its fairy-tale leanings. Despite all this, Apostle is certainly ambitious and has some key scenes of genuine dread and horror, especially in its violent (seriously, it’s violent) third act. When it works, it works quite well. But those moments are just too few to nudge it into greatness.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6217306/