31 Days to Scare ~ Apostle

The Facts:

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

Rated: TV-MA

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.

Movie Review ~ The Raid 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Only a short time after the first raid, Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force.

Stars: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusadewo, Oka Antara, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, Kazuki Kitamura

Director: Gareth Evans

Rated: R

Running Length: 150 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: In my first year of reviewing movies for this blog, one of the standout films was most definitely The Raid: Redemption. Not only was it a rip-roaring muscle knuckle of an action film, it arrived in my field of vision without any previous warning. A thrilling ride following a good cop that finds himself trying to get to the top floor of a slum building to nab a bad guy and dealing with the violent residents on his way up, The Raid: Redemption was a take no prisoners kitchen sink sorta film that was deliriously violent and over-the-top but worked like a charm.

Normally, when a sequel is coming out I try to watch the films that preceded it but I didn’t quite have the time to do that before catching The Raid 2…and originally I thought I was in trouble. The first 10-15 minutes of the sequel had me grasping at characters to try and remember how they played into the first film and who was being newly introduced. I almost gave up and left (something I’ve never done) because I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through the rest of the movie if I had no idea who was whom.

Thankfully, I stayed and the memories came back in the midst of some of the most jaw-dropping action sequences you’re likely to see and a plot so twisty that French braid aficionados and pretzel makers should take notes.

I’ve been referring to The Raid 2 at The Godfather Part II of Indonesian gangster films and the comparison isn’t that far off. Originally intended as the first film, director Gareth Evans had to make due with a smaller budget and found that his script that became The Raid: Redemption fit more into the budgetary constraints. When that film was a hit, it was no problem finding funding for this bigger, badder, meaner, bloodier, and overall totally different sequel which kicks its way to being awfully close to the top of my list for best films so far in 2014.

Picking up almost exactly where the first film left off but introducing new threads that happened concurrently, The Raid 2 as I mentioned before is counting on the audience being familiar with the original. Though it runs an incredible and not the least bit boring 150 minutes, Evans doesn’t have time to bring you up to speed because he’s got a ton of double crosses to make, throats to slit, and various bones/joints to break as he follows honest cop Rama (action star Iko Uwais making another strong impression) who infiltrates the same crime syndicate he went after in The Raid: Redemption.

It’s a bit of The Departed as Rama gets embroiled in the crime family from within, even as the family is fending off a rival syndicate that has its own set of spies working to obliterate their enemy. With various assassins employed to get the job done (with names like Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man), Rama has to keep his eyes open for backstabbers even though he’s operating on his own agenda.

Evans gives as much thought to the plot as he does to staging some grandly operatic fights. From a bone crunching prison fight in a muddy open air exercise area to the final showdown in a pristine white kitchen that soon is drenched in red I’m not sure if any of the punches, kicks, chops, and snaps are ever delivered the same way twice. It’s as if everything was filmed on fast forward with the camera swinging left-right-up-down to capture it all. Several times I was so stunned that I couldn’t help but let out a guffaw at the sheer boldness of it all.

As good an action flick as anything Hollywood has produced in the last decade, The Raid 2 becomes an instant classic in my book and a must see for fans of the genre and anyone that grew up watching Bruce Lee, Steven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme pics…it’s just a gloriously exciting film as rich in action as it is in crime drama.

 

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The Silver Bullet ~ The Raid 2: Berandal

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Synopsis: Immediately following the events of the original, The Raid 2 tracks Officer Rama as he is pressured to join an anti-corruption task force to guarantee protection for his wife and child.

Release Date:  March 28, 2014

Thoughts: 2011’s The Raid: Redemption was a high-speed locomotive of an action film, one that took very little time to take a breath or allow the audience to catch theirs.  Following a S.W.A.T. team working their way up through a slum high-rise while a seemingly endless supply of knife wielding bad guys try to cut them off (and up!), the movie left a lasting impression on me – mostly because it was such an unexpected marvel.

Flash forward three years and The Raid 2: Berandal is set for release in 2014, picking up pretty much after the first one ended.  I’m thrilled that director Gareth Evans (V/H/S 2) is back as well Iko Uwais as tireless good cop Rama.  As big and bold as the first film was, its follow-up has a high bar to meet and I’m interested to see how well the sequel works outside of the mostly one location setting of the original.  From the looks of this first teaser trailer, Evans has it all under control.