Fantastic Fest Review: Gareth Evans' Violent Cult Horror Film 'Apostle'
A mysterious cult stationed at a secluded island. A "lost soul" of a man searching for his kidnapped sister. The ancient entity known only as "The Goddess" who is seemingly able to speak through the cult's chosen mouthpiece. These are the main pieces of the puzzle at work in Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans latest horror endeavor, Apostle. Most known for his action chops, Evans delivers the bloody, brilliant goods in his newest film, a horror, period piece that turns the screws of tension one, small click at a time. It does take a good, long while before the craziness at the heart of Apostle kicks in, but it is more than worth it. The last hour of the film presents all the macabre, cult insanity you would expect from the man who directed The Raid and its epic sequel. However, the first hour of Apostle is borderline grueling.
English actor Dan Stevens plays Thomas, that "lost soul" on the hunt for his sister, Jennifer (Elen Rhys), who has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom by the people of Erisden. Erisden is a remote island divorced from the rest of the world, both physically and lawfully. The cult housed on the island worship "The Goddess," a mysterious creature who provides them all they need for survival and who delivers the rules and guidelines for living on the island through her mouthpiece, Malcolm (Michael Sheen).
It is this island and this cult Thomas must infiltrate under the guise of a new follower among their ranks. He carefully moves himself into the fold, covering his tracks every step of the way, but the cult knows there is something amiss. What begins as a keen game of cat-and-mouse eventually builds to full-blown horror for both the residents of Erisden as well as the unfortunate souls trapped there against their will. It all comes to a head eventually, but the journey getting there is long and arduous.
Primarily known for the stupendous work he achieved with The Raid and The Raid 2, Gareth Evans also made a splash in the horror world with his co-directed (along with Timo Tjahjanto) V/H/S/2 segment, Safe Haven, about a deadly cult. Some of those similar themes are touched upon again here in Apostle, but for the most part, Evans' latest film is its own beast entirely. As with The Raid and The Raid 2 to a larger extent, Apostle is too long and takes too much time spinning its wheels to deserve a full-blown recommendation.
Thomas' infiltration into the cult and the search for his sister is plotted out in painstaking detail. That's all well and good, and the time bestowed upon the initial setup of things helps in building the world and players with which the insanity is to play out. The 1905 setting and the achievement in bringing that time to cinematic life gives the undertakings the feel of an H.P. Lovecraft story complete with otherworldly monsters and nefarious plots. It wears on the viewer's patience, though, and one could see where 20-30 minutes could have easily been cut for the greater good of the absurd violence that is to come.
And, make no mistake, that absurd violence does eventually hit and hit very well, it does. Evans' ability to make his audience cringe has been well documented with his previous works, and Apostle is no exception. It's surprising violence, as well, never coming from the direction you most expect, especially for those viewers who are well aware of the movie's surface-level similarities to films like The Wicker Man.
With finely detailed production design and commendable performances across the board, Evans' Apostle is much more than your average tale of horror. The film's score by Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal helps tremendously with the twisting of the nerves, and, even when the story seems to be losing momentum, there is plenty of unsettling window dressing and foreboding sense of dread to keep the viewer fully engaged. It's a close call, though, and when Apostle finally does rear its extremely violent edge, it's almost like a release valve being turned all the way counterclockwise. For the last half, along with all the jolting territory in which the film does eventually tread, Apostle will be regarded as a memorable cinematic tale of cult horror and supernatural wickedness. It's just a shame the overall experience isn't more tightly presented.
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