The Raid and The Raid 2 are already considered action classics. So whenever the name Gareth Evans pops up into conversation, hairs stand on end at the back of one’s neck. And yet, one couldn’t be blamed for seeming a little confused by his choice of follow-up: a haunted island horror film focused on a Wicker Man lite cult. That being said, Apostle does still shine with some of the kinetic directorial vision on display in The Raid films. It’s just a shame that Apostle also fails to provide any kind of narrative thrills to compliment the sacred action filmmaking on display: the body is there, it’s just the blood of the film’s story that fails to flow.
Dan Stevens stars as Thomas Richardson, a man who embarks on a simple mission: locate his lost sister, in the clutches of a radical religious cult. What he uncovers, in typical fashion, is far darker than that initial set-up lets on. Supernatural occurrences, creepy cultists and fearful forest dwellings all follow, leading Thomas to take desperate action on behalf of that he pursues.
It’s story may seem similar, and that’s because Apostle borrows the framework from films such as the aforementioned The Wicker Man to loose remakes such as Christopher Smith’s underrated Black Death. However, unlike those predecessors, Apostle fails to deliver anything fresh to this sacrificial table. Unlike Sean Bean’s fascinating Ulric, Thomas is a little bland, despite his extravagant surroundings. Dan Stevens does an admirable job in his reactions and during Evans’ inevitable action sequences. Unfortunately, he’s leant a weak script that fails to tie Thomas to the action in any meaningful way, other than a few brief references to his original goal and a sub-plot involving an addictive substance that is thrown away in the blink of an eye.
That being said, Evans doesn’t allow this to prevent his keen, crazy eye from capturing all kinds of silly insanity in a standard we’ve come to expect from the director. Whereas a director such as The Wicker Man’s Robin Hardy uses subtle camera shots to build tension, like a brewing psychosis, Evans goes for outright madness, with DOP Matt Flannery swinging the camera around like it’s on a ball and chain: nothing escapes our eye as angles search for a horrifyingly unexpected way of seeing the action unfold.
It helps that Fajar Yusekemal and Aria Prayogi’s score screeches into life at all of the right moments. Like the Devil breathing into the film reel, it’s an overwhelming soundtrack that creates painful discomfort, like a knife slowly twisting within you. Coupled with some traumatically violent imagery and Apostle will bury itself in you, for at least the couple of hours that it borrows from you.
It’s just a shame then that Evans goes a little wayward towards the end of his film. Whereas it’s opening does a solid job of building tension, its finale goes all out in ways that you won’t expect yet cannot really fathom. While it’s great to have a film that doesn’t explain everything that the plot has to offer, at the same time, Apostle struggles to create any real coherence between its realistic cult setting and its fantastical foundations.
Overall, Apostle does an admirable job of creating atmosphere and delivering stable thrills. It demonstrates that Evans possesses a filmmaking craft rarely seen in this day and age, a reliance on curious camera angles and kinetic camera movement. However, Evans must remember that from this filmmaking prowess, a strong story and effective character motivations must follow suit in terms of importance: one must care about the action in order to appreciate the way it is projected to us. With this, Apostle could have stood out from the cultist crowd.
Dir: Gareth Evans
Prd: Aram Tertzakian, Ed Talfan, Gareth Evans
Scr: Gareth Evans
Starring: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Michael Sheen
DOP: Matt Flannery
Music: Fajar Yusekemal, Aria Prayogi
Editor: Gareth Evans
Runtime: 129 minutes