Synopsis: In 1905, a drifter on a dangerous mission to rescue his kidnapped sister tangles with a sinister religious cult on an isolated island.
Stars: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Michael Sheen, Bill Milner, Mark Lewis Jones, Elen Rhys, Sharon Morgan
Director: Gareth Evans
Running Length: 130 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Plenty of horror movies come and go with varying degrees of value over time. The tried and true masterworks are like warm blankets, boons to the soul that work no matter the circumstance or situation. Some are quick larks that entertain in the moment and fade from memory before you close your eyes for the night. The bad ones unfortunately tend to stay in your mind because you can’t believe you’ve wasted time on something so pointless when you could have been reading that Alexander Hamilton biography gathering dust on your nightstand. Then there are the new classics that appear on the scene and you know almost right away they’ll have an impact that remains after the last drop of blood has been shed.
It’s been nearly a year since I fired up Apostle on Netflix and it was by happenstance I caught it at all. It totally wasn’t on my radar, even though it boasted a tantalizing cast and was written and directed by Gareth Evans. Evans was behind the eye-popping amazement that was The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2 so I was eager to get a peak at what he had conjured up. You could tell from the beginning Apostle wasn’t your average run-of-the-mill horror film and as it played on I kept waiting for the misstep that would prove to be the expected letdown…but it never came. This is that rare unicorn on a streaming service that arrives with little fanfare and winds up knocking your socks clear off your feet. Anything I was expecting from the film was thrown out the window and I got so much more than I could have imagined.
Arriving on a small Welsh island at the turn of the century, Thomas (Dan Stevens, Beauty and the Beast) is looking for his kidnapped sister that he has tracked to this location. Being held for ransom but a religious cult, Thomas poses as a new convert to gain passage into the sect and when he arrives he isn’t prepared for the danger that awaits him. Though he finds his sister fairly quickly, getting off of the island alive won’t be as simple. Led by the charismatic Malcolm (Michael Sheen, Home Again), the order demands blood from their followers as a way to feed the land that’s eternally…hungry. As Thomas seeks a way off the island to safety with his sister, he needs to steer clear of the town elders and an array of suspicious eyes that are always watching his every move. Flashbacks to his past as a Christian missionary hint of a man that’s already suffered a great deal for his beliefs, he’s not about to follow a similar fate here with these people.
With support from Malcolm’s daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton, Bohemian Rhapsody), Thomas goes deeper into the heart of the island and discovers the mystery that lays at the heart of the cult. Who or what is feasting on the blood of the townspeople and what is lurking in a tunnel linking the makeshift village to a cave on the coast with ancient drawings suggesting there’s a deity dwelling within the island. Could it be the entity referred to simply as Her? Or the protective figure known as The Grinder? The answers to these questions come with a considerable bit of bloodshed and grisly gore, shown in gruesome detail by Evans. Never one to shy away from violence, Evans doesn’t hold back here, employing torture devices used to extricate confessions from suspects and putting a meat mincer to grotesque use.
If this all makes the movie sound intense and hard to watch, well, it is. It’s also gorgeously made and performed by a fully-committed cast. The isolated setting and mythical undertones give the film a supernatural bent while the violent religious fanaticism provides horrors of its own as no bond proves too strong to be tested. Not going to lie, I had to turn away a few times because the images were too disturbing, but it was strangely energizing to see such bold filmmaking conveyed with such sophistication. Available on Netflix, this is a must-see for fans of horror of genre filmmaking. A great selection for a Friday or Saturday night in or a rainy Sunday afternoon (after church), Apostle will rattle your cage with fire and brimstone.