a review by the Crow.
Opening Thoughts / State of Affairs
Apostle was a chance watch for me last night.
In light of the A-W Magpie’s having trouble with her review for A Serbian Film (surprise, surprise…), which has also backed up our upcoming review of Get Out, I decided to go ahead and watch something for a quick review so that we can keep our annual “Horror Month” going strong (the intention is to deliver a review each day until Halloween).
I knew nothing about Apostle heading into the movie (currently available to Netflix subscribers), and maybe that was for the best. Reading about the movie after having watched it, I don’t think I would’ve been as inclined to give it a chance if I had read what’s out there.
Helmed by Gareth Evans — the director behind The Raid series, which we really need to talk about at some point on The Corvid Review — Apostle is a horror movie starring Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones, and Lucy Boynton (who also starred in our “Heavyweight Champion post”: The Blackcoat’s Daughter).
And what did I think about it? Well, let me take you under my wing and tell you:
Setting, Premise, and Thoughts on the Plot
WARNING: This section contains MINOR spoilers.
Set in the early part of the 1900s, the movie opens with Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) travelling to an island off the coast of Wales in his fathers’ stead. His mission? To rescue his sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys), who is being held for ransom by members of a cult based on the island.
He arrives on the island, masquerading as someone eager to join the cult, and quickly discovers that the three men who started the cult — Malcolm (Michael Sheen), Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), and Frank (Paul Higgins) — have centred the cult’s beliefs around the notion that blood sacrifices can bring life to the crop of the once-barren island. And soon, he realises how their claims might very well be true.
Learning the ways of the cult in the first few days that he is on the island, Thomas starts on a path towards gruesome discoveries and supernatural forces as he searches for his sister, whilst skirting around the troubles of some of the natives born on the island; all as he tries to avoid being exposed as the suspected “spy” amongst the flock.
Apostle does something that I quite like. I’ve mentioned before how horror is best left vague. It seems that a few people have been quite upset by the lack of answers found in the movie, whereas I think it’s just fine. Over-exposing plot threads in horror almost always leads to disaster — especially in this day and age, where no plot is really new under the sun. The movie leaves us both with questions as well as with a sense of closure — both at the same time. It’s one of those scenarios in which why something happened doesn’t have to be as important as what we saw happen.
The story of Thomas and Jennifer is wrapped up, as is Andrea (Lucy Boynton)’s. And the plot between Quinn, Jeremy (Bill Milner), and Ffion (Kristine Froseth) is a little weaker, but still works to serve the plot. The stories of the three men leading the cult stands in the background, and gives us just enough to help us understand both the power-plays that go on within the community, as well as what each man does as the story progresses.
The nameless woman at the centre of the cult’s beliefs is left unexplained, as is the… “creature” (apparently known as The Grinder) that seems to lurk around the darker parts of the community. While I’m fine with the woman as she exists within the story, The Grinder’s complete lack of backstory was a little annoying. The character (or perhaps it’s safer to just say ‘creature’) just… is: no reason for being there, no rationale for its actions, and not a single clue as to its allegiances.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it did make its inclusion in the movie a little weak.
Quinn’s jump to utter human filth (highlight to reveal the spoiler text) is foreshadowed, but I felt that the movie could have done with a little more in that regard. He makes for a great character nonetheless, and I guess one can see his slipping into his eventual role without much of a stretch. The only issue I have is, one has to stretch — if even a little bit.
The ending — when it arrives — is a little perplexing, but there are scenes in the movie that could well explain what happens. Is it a satisfying ending? Well… yes and no, but mostly yes. I hope there is never a sequel to this movie (I could say that about a lot of movies, to be honest), but the way the ending plays out works best if the story ends where it does. I’m fine with it as it is.
Following the trend set by our “Weekend Horror Marathon“, Apostle is a very fine-looking movie. The visuals are crisp and clear, even during the frantic action scenes (and who would be surprised, considering that it’s Gareth Evans watching over things?). There is only one short moment of action that stands out as a little subpar, but I can look past that in light of the greater picture.
One thing I quite liked is how a majority of the final third of the movie happens during the daylight hours. It’s a brave thing for a horror movie to do, and it works just fine, here. It just goes to show what competent directing can do for a movie.
Michael Sheen is on full-form in this outing (when is the man not?), as is Mark Lewis Jones. Lucy Boynton turns in another solid performance, and the rest of the cast does a pretty alright job, bar one glaring exception: Dan Stevens.
I’m not certain what went wrong, here, but Dan Stevens turns in a very… bizzare performance. Instead of being an infiltrator looking to ingrain himself into the community by not drawing attention to himself, he is continually acting suspicious. He always looks angry, and is always eyeing things like a hawk. The moment in which he thrusts himself into the limelight (so to speak) is out of his control, but in general, he places a sizeable target upon his own head; yet no one seems to pick up on it until he’s discovered through some circumstantial evidence.
The score didn’t stand out to me much, so I have nothing to say about it. When it comes to scores, if it doesn’t stand out to me, I ignore it and rate the movie without factoring it in. Nothing special, here.
All-in-all: Apostle is a movie that’s decently put-together. I have no issues with the technical aspects as such. Well-executed, I could even say.
Overall, I enjoyed Apostle. It’s by no means a great movie, but it’s certainly above average. I don’t think that the movie is even that strong when considered exclusively as a horror movie. It’s more of a good action-thriller with a few supernatural elements thrown in (was The Grinder anything but a man?).
It’s very much a spiritual cousin of The Wicker Man, and shares a great deal of DNA with its older kin (please no. Not the one with Nicholas Cage. Please), and I would be pushed to even say that Apostle and The Wicker Man could very well be watched one after the other (in which order is up to whether or not one is inclined towards the supernatural). One could even go as far as to say that Apostle is a result of direct inspiration from the aforementioned movie.
I still consider The Wicker Man (not the one with Nicholas Cage) to be the far superior movie, but it’s not to say that the movie we’re talking about is a bad attempt. It’s a solid piee of work by Mr Evans and his team — and bar Dan Stevens’ strange performance, a movie I reckon will hold up well over time. Unlike movies like The Nun et al., I see an enduring quality to Apostle, albeit a very small amount of said quality.
It’s not scary (and I’m not bringing in my personal desensitisation to the tropes of the genre, here), but it might be considered somewhat unsettling. It has at least one nice character arc (Malcolm’s), and offers a vague-enough plot to keep the underlying themes of horror and fantasy going.
With all that said, I’ll recommend Apostle to anyone looking for a nice weekend movie. It’s a decent movie that looks and feels nice, but isn’t anything that’ll leave you with notions of having watched a work of art. It’s nice, is all.
— Crow out.
THE CROW: 5.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: TBD/10
Here’s the official poster: