Quick Hit: Outrageous and bloody with ambition to spare.
It’s impossible not to think of The Wicker Man when watching Apostle. Part of that is due to the subject matter – both deal with off-the-beaten path communities that harbor cults with murderous sensibilities. But the part that sealed the deal for me was that Dan Steven’s (The Guest, Beauty and the Beast) performance so incredibly invoked Nicholas Cage, who was in the remake of The Wicker Man – featuring of course, the meme-worth BEES scene. His (Stevens) wide-eyed and crazed performance is a lot of what works throughout Apostle, which appears on Netflix for those seeking something that is ambitious as hell and with an amount of blood to rival most. So let’s talk about it a bit further, shall we?
Apostle has the aforementioned Stevens as Thomas, a drug-addled brother with an insane backstory (as a missionary no less) who finds his way to Erisden, an island that contains a cult that is holding his sister hostage for ransom. There, he encounters their leader, Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen) and his daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton of Sing Street). Malcolm is an extremely interesting character whose own story is developed as the film goes on. That’s one thing that Apostle has in spades – it’s willing to go off and tell whatever stories it wants, in no particular order, with characters referring to past events that we then flashback to. It does get a bit tiring as the film goes on, and the film ends with a lot of plots that feel half-cooked, but the sheer scope of the mythology is impressive.
The first half of the film is the epitome of a slow burn. There is a lot of setup, and much is spent on Thomas getting absorbed into the community and attempting to discover his sister’s fate. Then, in one scene, which invokes more fear than the rest of the film to this point in a single moment (and gives echoes of The Descent), the film goes absolutely bonkers. From this point on, the film decides to let nothing stay. We have purification by screw, a human meat grinder, blood drinkers, faceless creatures, etc. This is just a small taste as to what the rest of the film has to offer, and it’s outrageous and incredibly entertaining, but definitely not for the faint of heart. It immediately reminded me of a small film I watched for SLIFF two years ago called Tonight She Comes that made me extremely uncomfortable for a few days.
The other thing that I have to commend this film on is that despite the fact that a lot of the beginning is frequently shot incredibly darkly, the film overall is incredibly beautifully shot. There are some horrific things that are set in gorgeous light and centered. The action scenes (of which there are several, increasingly mightily towards the end of the film) are shot with a clinical air, even as we watch spears and knives pierce hearts and chests galore. It is actually fairly similar to what you would see in a Kung Fu film, in that the righteous glee throughout the violence is taken with a pure shot with nothing to dilute it.
Is Apostle good? It has elements that work, mainly by virtue of throwing everything at the screen and seeing what sticks. Is it entertaining? That is an overwhelming yes. I’m giving Apostle a “C+”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"