Main cast: Dan Stevens (Thomas Richardson), Michael Sheen (Malcolm Howe), Mark Lewis Jones (Quinn), Paul Higgins (Frank), Lucy Boynton (Andrea Howe), Bill Milner (Jeremy), Kristine Froseth (Ffion), Elen Rhys (Jennifer Richardson), Sharon Morgan (Her), and Sebastian McCheyne (The Grinder)
Director: Gareth Evans
Set in the early 1900s, Thomas Richardson is summoned back home due to a family crisis. A broken man addicted to laudanum, he has nothing left to live for, except for his sister Jennifer, and she is missing. Kidnapped, in fact. She is held at a remote Welsh island for ransom, but Thomas’s father is now a senile man who doesn’t even notice that his daughter is missing. Hence, it is up to our to infiltrate the island and save his sister.
The island is home to a cult founded by three escaped convicts. Led by Malcolm Howe, they worship an entity known simply as She. She subsists on blood, and hence, every member of the cult will donate some blood on a regular basis to keep She nourished, and in turn, She blesses the island with fertile crop and livestock. The problem here is that the cultists’ blood isn’t enough, and they have been sacrificing animals to She as well. Alas, animals aren’t cheap, and the cult is running low on money. Knowing that the Howes are wealthy, the three cult leaders Malcolm and his buddies Frank and Quinn have had Jennifer kidnapped for ransom. When the ransom isn’t coming, mounting desperation may just lead them to sacrificing her to She, hence Thomas may be on a race against time here.
Wait, you may be thinking, this plot seems more like a thriller, and you may be wondering why this review is placed under the horror category. Well, this is because things move at a placid, if still tension-filled, pace for the first hour or so, leading some people to assume that this is some kind of drama revolving around whether Malcolm and friends are running an elaborate scam or the whole thing is real, but wait for it, as things escalate very quickly in the second hour. While this movie doesn’t drench its scenes with gore, there are some genuinely terrifying moments, especially one involving a particularly gruesome medieval torture device being used on one of the very few likable characters in this movie. By that point, yes, Apostle is a clearly horror drama.
I have some iffy feelings about the premise – the cult thing is never convincing, as I never get a good idea as to why anyone want to join the cult in the first place. These people give up their worldly possessions to join some communist community in which everyone contributes – that doesn’t seem too bad, I guess, for folks who like that kind of thing, but this cult doesn’t offer anything particularly new that will draw in people to sign up. The whole thing feels like a contrived way to get the story going.
The story itself isn’t bad, and Thomas a character could have been a woobie of the year. He’s damaged, wracked with pain, and is barely hanging on – it’s possible that he would have willingly offed himself before the year is out. Oh, and he’s an ex-man of the cloth, which only makes him 500% sexier.
Unfortunately, he’s played by Dan Stevens. Now, I like looking at him, and he sure has beautiful eyes. Unfortunately, he always lacks the gravity to play brooding, intense types, and as a result, Thomas often comes off like some guy playing at being angst-ridden rather than someone genuinely and irreparably damaged. It doesn’t help that Gareth Evans’s script also has Thomas uttering some deadpan one-liners at the worst, immersion-breaking moments – that or Mr Stevens is improvising, which doesn’t making anything better. Thomas needs to be played by someone with a more intense kind of charisma – Joaquin Phoenix and, as much as I hate to say it, the Eeyore-made-life Ryan Gosling would have been great for this role. Dan Stevens is better off playing nice guys.
Still, Apostle is a well-acted and well-paced movie that takes its time to build up the tension only to unleash some truly frightening moments as part of its masterful denouement. Sure, the events towards the end are tad predictable, and the male female characters play exactly the kind of stereotypical damsels that one would expect just from reading the synopsis of the plot. However, the journey to the rather flaccid ending is a solid, good one. If only they had cast a different actor in the lead role, oh well.