Movie Review: APOSTLE (2018)

Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the horror/drama APOSTLE (2018) by writer/director Gareth Evans. To best describe the story, I will turn to the IMDB plot summary:

“In 1905, a drifter on a dangerous mission to rescue his kidnapped sister tangles with a sinister religious cult on an isolated island.”

To begin with, I am a bit of a sucker for period piece horror features.  I think the reason for this is that I have noticed that few of them are truly good, but even the bad ones often have some neat production values.  That added texture adds an art house feel to the proceedings that makes even the lesser entries more visually interesting.

Well, from a visual standpoint they really knocked this one out of the park.  The costuming, set pieces, and textures were transportive, really selling the idea of the world these characters were inhabiting.  The fact that the cinematography walked the fine line between classical camera work and the more modern, quick cuts brought this old school tale into the modern era.

Speaking a bit more at length about the cinematography, they executed one of their torture scenes with such panache that the mere implication left me feeling uncomfortable.  The film struck a nice balance between showing us the grim details and leaving some of the bloodier aspects to our imagination. Choices like this reminded me strongly of some of the more “shocking” movies of  the 60’s and 70’s which would go long stretches without showing anything only to surprise the audience with bloodshed.

This method of forcing the audience to wait a bit is actually present in the story as well.  The plot is methodical in its execution, offering small glimpses of what is to come with little explanation as to what is actually going on up front.  Though the central mystery is interesting, it’s really the characters that keep things moving at the beginning as we spend time connecting with them and their motivations.  As our mysterious lead reveals his past, it is hard not to notice that though we understand his fall from grace, we are offered very little in the way of information on the relationship he had with his sister.  I wish we had been given a bit more time to learn more about his backstory, but I also think that it would have stopped some of the forward progress of the plot or fleshing out of the supporting players.

The acting is where this one really shines brightly.  Watching Michael Sheen and Dan Stevens play off of one another is practically a master class in tension.  Though these two titans duking it out is an absolute joy to watch, the best performance might actually be from Bill Milner who gamely shoulders a lot of the emotional lifting.  Honestly, the performances alone are a major selling point of this picture and make it accessible to not only the horror crowd, but also those who just want to see some fantastic acting.

Of course all the shiny production values, slow buildup, and pitch perfect acting will mean nothing if the piece cannot stick the landing.  Well when it comes to the finale I can honestly say, I left feeling satisfied. In a way, there was an inevitability to the events that meshed perfectly with not only the tone, but also the motivations of the characters.

All in all, this was an atmospheric period horror piece with a good handle on its tone and some stellar acting.  I would have loved for the story to give a little more background on our lead, but I appreciate the way the various pieces fit together to bring us from the first scene through to the conclusion.  Fans of movies like The Wicker Man (1973) and Witchfinder General (1968) will find themselves perfectly at home in this creepy feature.

APOSTLE is now available to stream on Netflix.

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