Netflix’s APOSTLE (2018) is a bloody, brutal, and unsettling cult thriller
Netflix’s Apostle follows Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) who in 1905 ventures on a mission to rescue his sister from the clutches of a dangerous religious cult.
From the mind of writer/director Gareth Evans comes Apostle, a twisted, bloody, and disturbing story navigating through an equally as twisted and disturbing isolated community. From its trailer Apostle promised to be something dark, horrifying, and transfixing and it is all of those for the most part, with absolutely no shortage of blood. It makes use of a chilling score, distressing visuals, and a pretty thrilling story to hold your attention for the majority of its runtime. It’s a very slow burn, at two hours and ten minutes in length it’s definitely not sprinting towards the climax. It takes its time to build tension, develop characters, and allow the mystery to unfold in as many horrifying ways as it can think of. Despite the slow pace which builds as it approaches the insanity of the third act I thought the tension was very up and down throughout. I found that it didn’t hold the thrilling sense of intensity the whole way through and it dropped in and out here and there through the first two acts. It definitely gets to a higher point by the third act but it doesn’t do so smoothly which led to a rocky experience that felt lacking for me. But when it is switched on and focused on the core plot it’s great. I was disturbed, unsettled, and genuinely enjoying the ride when it was on the right path.
Where the focus began to waver slightly from the main plot is where the story just didn’t hold up as well. When the focus is on Thomas navigating the inner workings of this cult I was intrigued but when it starts to shift to one specific subplot it started to lose me. There is a romantic subplot in here which is in the background for the majority but does come into the forefront for some time and it didn’t work for me. It overtakes the core plot at a crucial point and it became more frustrating than anything. I understand what it stood for a that point in the film but there didn’t need to be as much emphasis on it to where I felt like I was watching a different story. But nonetheless, the gruelling rescue mission that Thomas is undergoing is engaging and some of the faces he comes across along the way make for great compelling characters. The story doesn’t always go where you expect so I commend it for that but I didn’t always love the direction. The deviations it takes through the first two acts I thought worked but the insane third act felt a little too different for me to engage with it in it the way I was previously. It’s a slightly different breed this third act, the brutality of it fit but when compared to the previous two acts I’d have liked it more if it wasn’t as large of a leap in pacing.
As for the performances, Dan Stevens is captivating in the lead role and does well in selling the sheer terror of the situation his character finds himself in and what he is dealing with. He doesn’t have a specific scene in which he can show off the full range of his acting ability here which is a shame but he’s good nonetheless. Lucy Boynton is an actress who I have loved since discovering her in Sing Street (2015) and she’s great in here too. She isn’t given a tonne of screen-time or big moments so there’s not a lot to go off with her performance but she’s one of the highlights. Michael Sheen plays the sinister Father Malcolm and is the standout performer for me. He commands the screen whenever he’s on and there’s a looming presence associated with his character that never dissipates. He is unrecognisable in the role and completely disappears into the mind of this cult leader.
In the end, Apostle is a good movie with some elements that are incredible, intense, and thoroughly entertaining. Then there are some aspects such as the patchy pacing and story choices that hold back how thrilling it could have been. It’s a brutal ride but the brutality is warranted and fits within the context of the film. I need to mention the chilling minimalistic score which is one element that never dipped in quality the entire way through. It’s a good watch if this sort of film is your thing, but if you’re not a fan of brutal and bloody close-quarters action then this may not be the best option for a night in.