Apostle (2018)

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When his sister is kidnapped by a Pagan cult, former missionary Thomas Richardson journeys, in disguise, to their remote island community. Initially planning on just giving them the ransom and leaving, Thomas quickly discovers that there is more going on beneath the surface, since the community is dying, and there is dissension among the ranks. Even more disturbing than this, he discovers, one night while exploring, that there is a monstrous plant woman living out in the woods, feeding on human blood. Yikes.

Apostle is what happens when you combine 1973’s The Wicker Man with Enter The Dragon. Like these films, Apostle focuses on an outsider journeying to a remote island, and discovering some horrifying secrets when they get there. And in case you can’t see the connection to the Bruce Lee classic, Apostle is directed by Gareth Evans, a man who came to international attention for The Raid, an Indonesian-language martial arts flick. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, that shows sometimes. Now, on its own, that isn’t a bad thing, but it speaks to a larger issue that I have with the film. But before I get into that, I do want to list some things that I admire about this flick. For one, it’s very well-acted. Dan Stevens, whom plays Thomas, brings a lot to what is, honestly, kind of an underwritten role. The things he does with his eyes, how he delivers his lines, and just the way he carries himself, indicate a depth and a history that the actual script doesn’t provide. Something else that I admire about this movie is that it’s original. It’s not a sequel to, a remake of, or adapted from, anything. It’s an original story, with some strange, unsettling twists. And as a production, it’s quite impressive. The  locations they shot in, and the sets they built, are all superb to look at. It’s a shame, therefore, that they’re kind of wasted.

As impressive as this film is from a conceptual and technical standpoint, it suffers from poor pacing, underwritten characters, and violence that feels out of place for this kind of story. Normally when I talk about bad pacing, I mean it in the sense that the film went on too long, or was too slow, but that’s not the case here. Like the worst kind of action films, this movie jumps right into the violence, without developing its characters enough to really care about them. As I said, Thomas arrives on the island within the first five minutes, and two minutes after that, we see the cult torture and kill somebody. At this point in the story, all we know about Thomas is that his sister’s been kidnapped, and he doesn’t get along with his father. And we don’t know this because we’ve heard him fight with his old man, or seen him do anything that indicates that. We know this because a random guy whose name we never learn, and who never shows up in the story again, tells us. Thomas has maybe two lines before we get to the first murder.  And while death is to be expected in a horror movie, the murders in this flick don’t feel built up to like they are in the best scary flicks. What I mean is, in other movies about cults, the filmmakers show the cult members living their lives for a while before we get any indication that there might be something suspicious going on. We learn why this community appeals to people, and the protagonist, and by extension, the audience, is lulled into a false sense of security. We don’t get that here. The Cult’s leader gives a brief sermon about how no one has to pay taxes on the island, but that’s about it. Then, in literally the next scene, we watch him and his cronies torture a man to death, and one scene after that, we watch them kill a would be assassin. And when I said this film feels like an action flick, I meant that, particularly with regards to its violence. It’s all highly choreographed and flashy. Thomas escapes a group of thugs by kicking them and using a staff. There’s a fight between a young man and one of the cult’s leaders that looks like it could have come right out of Man Of Tai Chi. And just the way these sequences are put together, with quick edits, dynamic shots, and a pulsing score, feel like they’re trying to get our adrenalin pumping in the same way that John Wick, or any other action film might. This clashes with the more serious, gothic tone, and makes the extremely gory deaths feel more exploitative than frightening. So, in the end, I don’t know if I should or shouldn’t recommend this to you all. It’s original, beautiful to look at, and well-acted. But it’s needlessly quick pace, underdeveloped characters, and its lack of buildup to its bizarrely flashy deaths make it frustrating. Make of this what you will.

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