Apostle review – Visceral, grounded Fable littered with surprises

Apostle is a chilling horror tale presented in a visceral yet grounded way in story and visuals. Directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid), this soul-tearing fable is ripe with glory in it’s wonderful darkness.

We follow Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), when just arriving home from his own war is plunged into a rescue mission to save his kidnapped sister by a religious cult – he must infiltrate the island. Richardson soon finds out the harsh paths that lie ahead as various mysteries linger creating enigmas in the narrative and also in the spectator’s mind as this gripping tale pushes you to the edge of your seat.

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The film takes it’s time in building up the characters, the plot and the island itself and what lies behind all this development one could not fathom – the visionary mind of Evans has brought to life a rich world of mystery, religion and torture. The religious imagery that is littered throughout the film is dense and has been done in great attention to detail setting a chilling undertone of what it means to truly worship God or perhaps a fake God as the title card of Apostle implies with the upside down cross. Links to Jesus and history gone by is evident with Richardson getting impaled in the hands and strung up similar to the crucifixion of Jesus, furthermore, the set design has included rather twisted statues and the church is haunting.

A comparison in Apostle can be made to Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ with the sweeping wide-shots of the island and those travelling, the island’s paranoia in regards to intruders of sorts and the key religious ideas of forcing a religion on a society and the effects it has.  Additionally, the film borrows a lot from the horror genre  with the film mixing ideas from many different genres – but it takes from ‘The Witch’ in the twisted tale of religion and the more supernatural elements that lay rather ambiguous throughout but that threat of the witch-like figure haunts the spectator.

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The characters are portrayed in such a wordless way, in that the film does not rely on it’s dialogue to drive the interactions but rather the body language and emotions each actor conveys, most showcase internal conflict and that divide of mind and matter decays like the grass as the film progresses. Everyone slowly begins to crack as does the island as the false God’s ideas that have been conveyed throughout begin to become more and more questioned. Flashbacks are commonly used, mainly without diegetic sound but rather silence or non-diegetic voice overlay, this fuels the spectator response as the spectator begins to gasp at the shocking images they see before them.

Shot in handheld predominantly as Evans is known for, with his jagged camera movement he uses familiar techniques in the few action scenes with the spectator right in the middle as the camera moves with the actions of each person attacking. Furthermore, the brutality Evans uses so frequently is portrayed in such a gut-wrenching way that you can’t help but squeal, especially in a number of tortured scenes as the tension rises which is accompanied by the masterful score that heightens the sense of urgency and threat within each frame.

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The twists in the film are fascinating with the depth of character portrayed in the first half, with a forbidden love, parent relationships  and the idea of what it means to rule – this patient build up is entirely ravishing until we get to the exhilarating scenes of violence which are undeniably beautiful in their extreme harshness, the idea of holding back showing everything does not occur in Evans’ mind and I thank him for that.

As the film nears an end Evans pushes further into the realm of the supernatural and the unknown as he taps into blood rituals and the very horror-like imagery associated with witches. This twist in our understanding may perhaps be jarring to some, but if you pay great attention throughout as Evans demands you to – the threads that tie up at the end makes the payoff all the more satisfying.

4.5/5 Stars

Ben Rolph

Apostle premieres October 12th on NETFLIX

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