The opening shot features the beautiful landscape of Margam Park, Wales. This is a far-cry from director Gareth Evans previous work of The Raid which features the grimy slums of Jakarta in Indonesia.
In the opening shot a letter is read out by a shaky narrating voice. It’s a women’s voice, desperate, ‘…please bring me home. Your beloved daughter, Jennifer.’ But her father is a broken man. It’s left to her brother Thomas Richardson to save her the cult that holds her for ransom money.
He travels to the island where she is kept disguised as one of the cults followers. The group embark on a boat journey to the island through choppy waters with only their clothes and family heirlooms as possessions. Upon arrival, the new guests are inspected for any diseases before being accepted and given bread and water. Next, they are greeted with a sermon in he church by none other than Malcom Howe (Micheal Sheen) who claims to be their prophet. Malcom details how he was shipwrecked on the island when a Goddess spoke to him before diverting into a rhetoric about freedom and taxes as people cheer him on whilst Thomas sits uncomfortably at the back, ready to unravel all the lies being spewed.
Despite not being allowed to venture at night beyond the sound of the towns bell, Thomas sees his opportunity and dashed in-between wooden houses. His spying pays off as he sees suspicious activity; blood rituals and Malcom entering his cellar via a trapdoor but his cover is nearly blown when he bumps into Ffion (Kristine Froseth). They are both startled and in the distance Jeremy – a boy who met him earlier shuffles away shyly.
After a day of work the following morning Thomas and Jeremy are both alone on the coastline. Thomas seizes the boy and shows him a locket with a picture of his sister Jennifer on it. It’s not long before Jeremy confesses that they were keeping her ransom and the two end up forming an alliance with both pledging not to tell on each-others hidden behaviors.
What really impressed me about this film is that the first half of it, goes along with the standard story beats you expect in a horror of this kind. Then, suddenly we become aware that our first perception of how things should turn-out are completely wrong. There is a bigger secret behind the blood rituals and behind why no crops are growing in the town. This spins what was a horror into other unexpected realms.
Comparing this film to other horrors aside from it genre-bending is one thing that stand out the most. Lately, horror have become mediocre, their scares no longer working and same routine that has worked before seems tired. And I put a good portion of these failures down to the lack of convincing villains. In The Nun we had an antagonist who’s motivations are almost devoid of purpose. But in Apostle, we don’t only have one great antagonist but two. Malcom is the prophet who we believe to be delusion, manipulative and controlling but we come to learn that he really just wants a place outside of the Kings laws and taxes. He preaches ideas of freedom which can often confuse what his real motives are. Some might even see him as an antagonist that only wants good for his little slice of heaven. But the henchman, Quinn is a nastier piece of work who is bordering psychotic. The death of his wife plays a big part in his role. But both of these antagonists have believable motives that drive the plot forward in a unique way that doesn’t just focus on one characters troubles.
Another important aspect is the technical skill of the shots. The camera angles are exceptional – each carefully thought about and executed. We all sorts of angles and one memorable one in his fire lights up the horizon and the camera spins 180 degrees, to what could have been an ordinary shot. Each image that is captured brings to mind a host of symbolic references. The imagery is so strong, that most of time, the characters don’t even need to speak.
It’s very hard to find anything bad about this film. I must admit, when I first heard about the project I was skeptical. Even after watching the trailer – no one could have predicted how this one turn’t out. Excellent acting, score, and a truly unique plot make this one of the most intriguing films of the year.