Gareth Evans was only 31-years old when he directed The Raid, a film that signalled the arrival of an important voice in cinema. That film and its sequel delivered a brand of action that, through its highly stylised violence and cinematic grace, took audiences to places rarely seen on the big screen. So incredible were those films that you could say he had all but sabotaged his own career; by setting the bar so bloody high, outdoing himself would be damn near impossible.
His long awaited follow-up is a Netflix release titled Apostle and tells the story of a former Christian missionary (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey, The Guest), who travels to an isolated Welsh island in 1905 to save his sister from the clutches of a mysterious cult. Learning of her kidnapping and demand for ransom, Thomas poses as a convert and new arrival to the island paradise, where the regular law of man is abandoned and the self-regulated society worships a goddess of the island, who is said to sustain health and wellbeing. Upon arrival he soon uncovers the island’s sinister secrets, and before having his chance to rescue his sister, he is forced to outsmart the three community founders before they sacrifice him and his sister.
Apostle is a brutal and unflinching Lovecraftian tale that is promising with its unique and provocative introduction. The production design is immediately engaging with Evans utilising elaborate sound-stage set designs, combined with a bold underlying score by Fajar Yusekemal and Aria Prayogi (the duo who also worked on the Raid films). A dark, fog swept cobble-stoned harbour awaits Thomas, and with an eerie and foreboding sense of dread, he sets sail into the darkness. Upon arrival at the island the film switches to a mostly exterior design, and the initial impact is immediately lost.
As the story alternates between the light of day and the darkness of night, the film flip flops with its aesthetic, giving reason for concern. When taking place at night, the story is bold and sinister, yet during the daylight it becomes a laborious drudge. One moment it plays out like a deliciously depraved horror film and the next it comes across like a mediocre period television series. Evans’ intention is obvious, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when things fall apart.
Following a mostly dramatic narrative, the film does revel in its occasional moments of ultra violence. Evans’ trademark fight choreography enters the fray and his camera dances amongst the feuding characters like an ice capade. Swift movements jolt the audience along with the action as bodies are impaled, faces beaten and heads crushed. Indeed, it is a gnarly affair and genre fans will certainly relish in the film’s extremities. They might, however, grow weary of the monotonous pacing. With a 129-minute running time Apostle suffers from heavy-handed direction, and a story that becomes more preposterous by the minute. When the final act finally arrives, we find ourselves in Stephen King territory as the ideas and concepts boil over like an overcrowded crock pot.
The cast is very good, making up for some of the aforementioned shortcomings. Michael Sheen as the community leader is the most notable face and he gives an expected strong turn. The remaining cast includes Mark Lewis Jones (Troy), Lucy Boynton (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Kristine Froseth (Rebel in the Rye). It is a seasoned line-up, none of whom are strangers to period drama, and their competence goes a long way in redeeming the film.
Long-winded and ultimately quite silly, Apostle is not the defiant return we were expecting from Gareth Evans. His style and pacing are at odds with each other, and when accompanied by what becomes an excessive score and poor CGI in the final act, he misses the mark. It is such a shame, given how audacious and unique it set out to be. Subscribers to Netflix have the privilege watching it more or less for “free”, and they have the added convenience of being able to switch to another film should they grow tired of this one. Here’s hoping that Evans can bounce back with a vengeance with whatever he delivers next.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★☆☆☆
‘Apostle’ is streaming right HERE.