For the first hour or so, “Apostle” appears to be slow, meandering & headed nowhere. Gareth Evans takes too long to acquaint the viewers with the fundamentals of his fable’s period setting & remote location but once the board is set, he ratchets things up quick and concludes with a bloody finale that redeems the film to a certain extent.
Set in early 20th century, the story of Apostle takes place on an isolated island and follows a drifter who arrives there in search of his missing sister who was kidnapped by a mysterious religious cult who are now demanding a ransom for her safe return. But his rescue mission becomes something more when he finally uncovers the secrets of the island.
Written & directed by Gareth Evans (best known for his Indonesian martial arts flicks such as Merantau, The Raid & The Raid 2), the first half of Apostle is no less than a chore as not much happens during that time and even boredom & frustration sets in after a while. But the patience for sitting through that glacial phase is rewarded in crimson glory once things go south in the final act.
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The mystery element is introduced & incorporated rather smartly, and the period setting & exotic location bring their own flavours into it. At all times, there’s a hint of a sinister secret gurgling beneath the surface plus the horror & suspense elements are properly executed by Evans. The plot unravels like a slow-burn narrative, however the characters don’t have arcs interesting enough to make us really care.
The film dives into the world of cultism and even attempts to dissect it but it doesn’t dig deep enough to unearth anything of substance. There are a number of subplots that don’t add up until the very end plus there’s a lot in here that the story could have done without. For me, the real highlight of the picture is its cinematography & music as the steady & controlled camerawork, vivid colour palette & apt lighting greatly magnify the aura & imagery and work in tandem with its moody score.
Performances are good (more or less) though there are no standouts. Dan Stevens leads the show with an unstable rendition of his character but it’s the trio — played by Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones & Paul Higgins — who chip in with much better inputs. The romance subplot was unnecessary, so was another concerning a young couple, and the removal of these & further polishing of the script probably would have yielded a more compact & gripping narrative. After all, the premise was enough. There was no need to throw superfluous material into the mix.
On an overall scale, Apostle is a welcome attempt at originality despite the obvious shortcomings. A small-scale period horror mystery that makes fine use of available resources yet suffers because of its unrefined script which in the end really is a shame because it had the ingredients & potential to become something truly memorable. The brutal & barbaric finale does salvage enough to prevent the film from being a complete disaster but it takes a while to get there and even then, it may not be wholly satisfying for some. Nevertheless, one way or another, Gareth Evans’ latest will find its audience.