The Wicker Man of monsters and madmen. Apostle – movie review

Don’t worry, though, this movie doesn’t feature any silly guy in a bear suit punching women around!

Apostle is the latest horror exclusive by Netflix and, in my opinion, the pinnacle of their horror releases this year (not counting TV shows like The Haunting of Hill House, which I adore like everyone else who’s seen it).

Gareth Evans, (the filmmaker behind two of the best action movies of all time, The Raid and its sequel, and responsible for the best VHS segment in the entire franchise, Safe Heaven) brings to the screen the story of Thomas, a former missionary to China who, in 1905, is sent by his family to retrieve his sister from a mysterious cult that lives on an island and follows rigid religious rules.

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The cult in Apostle

After Thomas (Dan Stevens) gets on a boat directed to Finlandia – that’s the name of the ultra-religious community on the island – through some unconvincing trick, the movie really kicks off as we follow the main character going down a rabbit hole of creepiness, insane religious superstition and a spiral of violence and blood.

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Rather creepy stuff happens in Apostle

Right off the bat, what’s so extremely convincing and effective about Apostle is its masterful combination of mystery, pure horror and Asian-esque action sequences. Over the course of 130 minutes (pretty long runtime for a horror flick), this unlikely mix never falls apart nor fails to deliver: this is quite a long picture that – aside, perhaps, from the very first few minutes – never feels uneventful nor boring. Everything has a purpose in the movie, there are no fillers whatsoever.

Continue reading and check my final grade below…

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Of course, to achieve something like that the pacing must be great, and so it’s the story, which nicely unfolds and quickly escalates, becoming darker and darker as the minutes go by. Throughout the first act, which lasts more or less 45 minutes, I was convinced Apostle was going to be a very well executed supernatural horror/drama, therefore I was pleasantly shocked when I noticed this film had much more to offer than ‘just’ that.

Without spoiling anything, the plot unfolds in a way you probably don’t expect. And it’s all about the writing: Apostle doesn’t need any cheap twist to be effective, as the story itself and the way it’s written are more than enough to keep you on the edge of the seat for the entire running time.

Let’s see: we have a great story, backed up by fantastic pacing. What else does a film need to be great? Exactly, a directing that enhances all the raw materials. Extremely stylised and filled with outstanding camera-angles, Apostle is really a feast for the eyes: this is definitely one of the best directed horror films I’ve seen all year, with fight scenes that maybe top the ones in Incident in a Ghostland and Upgrade.

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I wouldn’t do that…

Yet, casting and acting are also great: everyone seemed pretty dedicated to the project, with outstanding performances from Dan Stevens as the main guy, Michael Sheen in one of his best roles as Prophet Malcolm, Mark Lewis Johns as Quinn, Bill Milner (X-Men: First Class and The Lodgers) as somewhat clueless Jeremy, and all the extras nonetheless. However, I want to praise Lucy Boynton more than anybody else: not just because I find her super attractive (well, it helps), but so far she’s been fantastic in three horror films that I absolutely adore, this one, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House and, of course, The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Again, here she provides the audience with a subtle yet strong and convincing performance that doesn’t overshadow the other characters but makes you wish she had more screen time simultaneously.

To sum it up, Apostle features a great story that’s mostly fast-paced and entirely enthralling; characters that have just the right amount of development, played very well by the actors; very creepy and scary moments (one in the underground is pure chill-inducing material); an insane amount of gruesome violence that’s both shocking and effective due to great performances; an ending that might have a bigger meaning than meets the eye.

There are a few aspects that, in my opinion, hold back the film from being perfect, such as the beginning and the conveniences that help to set the plot in motion during the first few minutes. I think it would have been better to start the movie straight on the island, since that would’ve helped the movie not to have a rocky start. Also, I personally didn’t like the fast-paced, somewhat hectic editing style: I believe with better and more calm, if you will, editing the visuals would have been even more impactful. None of these ‘flaws’ really affected my viewing experience, though, and I think many horror fans will fall in love with Apostle as much as I did. Are you still here? Go watch the movie, now!

Apostle                       9/10