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APOSTLE (director/writer: Gareth Evans; cinematographer: Matt Flannery; editor: Gareth Evans; music: Aria Prayogi, Fajar Yuskemal; cast: Dan Stevens (Thomas Rihardson), Richard Elfyn (Charles), Elen Rhys (Jennifer), Michael Sheen (Prophet Malcolm Howe), Lucy Boynton (Andrea), Kristine Froseth (Ffion), Bill Milner (Jeremy), Mark Lewis Jones (Quinn), Paul Higgins (Frank), Sharon Morgan (The cult’s goddess); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Gareth Evans, Ed Talfan, Aram Tertzakian; Netflix; 2018-UK/USA)
Gothic horror pic that’s all style and of little substance.Reviewed by Dennis SchwartzWriter-director Gareth Evans (“The Raid”/”Footsteps”) departs from his former martial arts thrillers and comes up with a Wicker Man (1973) inspired gothic horror pic that’s all style and of little substance. It’s darkly beautiful, well-paced and filled with pleasing CGI effects. But it also is humorless, filled with obnoxious characters doing nasty things and with extreme gore. The gloomy ambience and mystery cult manifestations serve the film well, to a point. The period horror film has its moments in the sun, but the narrative is under-cooked. There’s also a far too noticeable loud score by Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal that keeps things creepy, something the film does best. The damaged goods (persecuted in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion for introducing Christianity to China) young Englishman missionary, Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), a drug addict on the outs with his wealthy father, in 1905, has returned from China a wreck only to find that his sister, Jennifer (Elen Rhys), has been forcefully taken by a religious cult to their secluded island of Erisden, off the coast of Wales, and is being held for a steep ransom. Upon his father’s request Thomas goes there by boat to rescue her, saving his life by pretending to be one of the pilgrims. On the beach he is told by the cult leaders before he can enter their island he must only be in his street clothes and must not take with him any worldly possessions. The cult is led by a self-proclaimed prophet named Malcolm (Michael Sheen). The cult enforcers are the ex-con bruiser Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones) and his ex-con colleague, the equally oppressive Frank (Paul Higgins). The cult members of this pagan religion work the land leading simple lives and worship a real-life earth goddess (Sharon Morgan), but are distraught their livestock keeps dying and they are running out of food. The cult needs money to buy food in order to survive, which explains the kidnap-ransom. At night the members strangely leave bottles of their own blood outside their rooms (we later learn the earth goddess has a thirst for the blood). In their daily conversations they talk reverently about the sea making decisions for them, which gives us all the info we have to know about their wacky thinking process. Thomas spends his time snooping around and finds two teens, without moms, Ffion (Kristine Froseth) and the clueless Jeremy (Bill Milner), who are secretly engaged and planning to elope because Ffion is pregnant. Ffion’s father is the thug Quinn and Jeremy is the son of the cult co-founder Frank. Meanwhile Thomas ingratiates himself with Malcolm and his attractive adult daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton), who is perceived as a rebel. While the desperate brother tries to locate where his sister is being held, he finds himself in the middle of a violent dispute among the cult leaders that results in torture and murder and the eventual dissolution of the cult. When the cult finally collapses from within, the narrative also collapses but the film is still aesthetically pleasing. When it ventures into supernatural territory the film about a self-serving religious cult taking advantage of members who have turned a blind eye to them becomes hardly affecting, as things become increasingly ridiculous.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”