Apostle (2018) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A tense, brutal period drama thriller

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Right from its very first shot, “Apostle”, which was recently released on Nexflix, announces to us that it is going to be pretty grim and intense. This is a tense, brutal period drama thriller packaged with several striking moments of extreme violence to jolt and shock us, and it will not disappoint you at all if you are ready for its dark, gruesome journey into madness and horror.

During the opening scene, the movie quickly and succinctly establishes its tone and background, which is England around the early 20th century. We meet a young British man named Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), and he is going to a remote Welsh island for getting back his sister, who was recently kidnapped by a cult which has resided in the island for many years. That cult group demanded to his father the ransom money for his sister, but his father has been too ill to do anything about that, so Thomas came to decide to go to the island instead for rescuing his dear sister.

As soon as he arrives at a dock where several new members of the cult are ready to get on a boat to the island, Thomas senses danger, so he decides to hide his identity, and it soon turns out he was right about that. Not long after he and others arrive in the island, a bunch of menacing guys come to the boat, and they take away some other guy instead of him thanks to Thomas’ last-minute tactic.

As he begins to spend his first day in the island, Thomas gets to know more about the cult and its leader Preacher Malcolm (Michael Sheen). According to Malcolm, he and his two associates Frank (Paul Higgins) and Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones) were saved by the goddess of the island after being shipwrecked on the island a long time ago, and he emphasizes how much he and his followers have prospered thanks to her grace. Freely living outside the control of their former society, they have so far lived well together in their isolated community, and they have been certainly happy about not having to pay any tax to the King of England and his government.

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However, it is subsequently revealed to us that things have not been going quite well in the community during recent years. Their land, which were quite fertile for many years, somehow becomes barren, and Malcolm and his two close associates have been worrying a lot about that as their community is running out of food day by day. As a matter of fact, their kidnapping of Thoma’s sister was their desperate measure to solve this serious problem, so they become more desperate as they still do not get the ransom money.

Meanwhile, Thomas slowly embarks on the search for his sister, and he soon gets a few possible allies to help him. There is a young boy who happens to encounter Thomas not long after having a private time with a young girl he loves at one night, and Thomas manages to persuade that boy to help him. When Thomas happens to save Malcolm from the latest threat against him, Thomas earns some trust from Malcolm, and he also comes to befriend Malcolm’s daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton), who is probably the most sensible person in the island but still believes in her father’s good sides.

As Thomas continues to try find any chance to save his sister and then escape along with her, the movie gradually accumulates tension while also imbuing the screen with considerable amount of eeriness. As watching a number of spooky moments including the one involved with a barn located in a nearby forest, we come to wonder whether what is believed by Malcolm and his followers is actually real, and the circumstance becomes quite spookier especially when Thomas encounters something scary in an underground tunnel later in the story.

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During its third act, the movie becomes more intense than before, and director/writer/editor Gareth Evans, who has been known mostly for “The Raid: Redemption” (2011) and the following 2014 sequel, willingly pushes his story and characters into lots of blood and violence. There is a cringe-inducing scene featuring a certain sadistic device for public execution, and then there comes a gory fight scene accompanied with the graphic depiction of body mutilation.

The movie will certainly be appreciated a lot by some genre fans for its considerable intensity as well as its no-hold-barred approach to extreme violence, but I must confess that I felt rather numb and exhausted around its third act while not caring much about its main characters, most of whom are more or less than broad archetypes to be bloodied one way or another. Dan Stevens, who is no stranger to horror genre considering his chillingly entertaining performance in “The Guest” (2014), looks as intense as required, but his character feels rather monotonous in his brooding mood, so we come to watch his character’s predicament from the distance without much care. In case of several notable supporting performers around Stevens, Michael Sheen acquits himself well without any overacting, and Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Paul Higgins, and Elen Rhys fill their respective roles as much as demanded.

Overall, “Apostle” is rather unsatisfying as being hampered by its flaws including weak storytelling and characterization, but I admire its technical aspects including its palpably moody atmosphere and realistically grimy period details. In my inconsequential opinion, the movie could be better if around 20 minutes were trimmed from it, but this is still a competent genre piece, and you may enjoy it more than me if you are looking for something very intense and bloody.

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