Movie Review : Apostle (2018)
Have you ever noticed that horror movies are almost always about religion? Christianity has been our vessel to supernatural realms for so long, it’s hard to reimagine our relationship to it without religion’s set of predefined signifiers. That’s why religious horror movies are the least original and the most predictable horror movies there are. Gareth Evans’ Apostle is one of these religious horror movies, but it has a couple interesting ideas about faith that give it enough shade to look alive. It’s a little hackneyed and self-important, but not too much. And it’s not about the fucking devil, which is awesome.
So, Apostle is the story of Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) a man traveling to a secluded island to rescue his sister (Elen Rhys) from a religious cult. The population over there is obviously living in terror of its leader prophet Malcolm (the awesome Michael Sheen), once a death-sentenced traitor to the Irish crown who now lives like a king himself, with a gloomy personal guard. It’s first unclear who or what they’re exactly worshiping, but Thomas witnesses townsfolk sacrificing blood in jars, which is going to lead him to the prophet Malcolm dark secret, a little further up the island.
To be honest, Apostle is more a movie about faith than religion. And a pretty cynical one at that. Prophet Malcolm and his bruiser Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones) behave like political figures more than religious leaders. They refer to the island as “their island” and love to display their life & death powers over the community, whether it’s by shackling and dragging Jennifer through the village or using a pretty awesome device called the heathen stand. They keep a capitalist mind state even when confronted with supernatural forces. They’re an allegory for how religion used and bastardized the sacred for centuries.
Apostle is a lot of little things, but it doesn’t amount to more than the sum of its parts. There’s a religious cult in it, but there’s only two people acting religiously in a couple scenes. There’s a… I guess a sorceress? But she only has one scene in the tunnel where she’s actually scary. There’s a dude with his head encased in rope, I believe. I didn’t understood his purpose except for being freaky. Apostle’s writer and director Gareth Evans never fully commits to any of these ideas. That makes the use of clichés inevitable because they’re predetermined signifiers: the drifter, the damsel in distress, the star-crossed lovers, etc. And there are a detriment to the movie.
Is Apostle a good movie? Eh. I don’t have a clear answer for you. It’s kind of trite without being poorly written or unimaginative. It looks like a hodgepodge of movies you’ve already seen, but not like anything it could call its own. But I’ve enjoyed it to a certain degree. It looked super slick and had this powerful, byzantine setting. Dan Stevens’ performance was also commendable, for he didn’t look like the typical fresh-faced jerkoff who gets himself in trouble in horror movies. But it sure isn’t a movie you’ll either love or hate. It’s one you’ll struggle feeling strongly about.