If any stock is to be put in the comments that frequently surface on social media regarding the changing face of how movies are delivered to audiences, then for many, Netflix may be either the the death knell of cinema or the way forward. Either way, here is a major studio (or at least a new form of movie studio unlike those of old) making films produced by and directed by some major Hollywood players and power brokers and beaming, sorry, streaming them directly into your home. Now admittedly that’s something that’s very cool.
However, what it also means is that films that really should be seen on the big screen sadly won’t be by the majority of people. Netflix has, to its credit, released its own productions on the big screen on the day of home release in limited numbers, which in some instances is a real shame, this years Annihilation being but one example, albeit one initially fuelled by the cold feet of Paramount resulting in it being farmed off to Netflix.
Apostle is in that same category. For maximum impact it should really be seen on the big screen. But it’s here now on it’s respective, chosen platform and for that we should be happy that it’s here at all.
Gareth Evans, the Welsh filmmaker who’s choice to go Indonesia and make breathtaking action films, which would make the movie world stand to attention and gawp at the levels of ingenuity exacted during both of The Raid movies, has now done what near enough no one could have predicted. He’s made a folk horror film. In Wales. You know, the place that’s not England? Not Scotland? The place Tom Jones comes from you ask? That’s the one.
After the huge success of The Raid and it’s sequel came the offers. If the press is to be believed, Evans was offered everything from Star Wars to Marvel. I bet if you looked hard enough you’d find some article claiming he was directing Harry Potter 9 such was the hype surrounding his name.
Instead, Evans chose to make a folk horror film, described by many and the man himself as similar or indeed indebted to the likes of Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and The Devils and what Evans has done is create an intoxicating mix of those films and a suitably gory one at that.
The story is thus – Thomas (Dan Stevens – wide eyed and constantly suspicious) is looking for his sister who has fallen foul of a religious cult led by Malcolm (Micheal Sheen – suitably grandiose and intimidating) on an island struggling with environmental issues and crises among the flock where exisiting issues are coming to the boil and they coalesce together.
Whilst the story may seem slow to play out begin with, it’s still engaging and visually sumptuous (hence the limits imposed by the confines of TV) and it’s otherworldliness and early 1900s setting does hint towards the turns it will take. To say too much of what follows would spoil what is a very entertaining, and yes, very gory horror- thriller with a unique style all its own.
Stevens puts in a fine central performance and the always brilliant Sheen, gives one full of intensity and bombast as a Manic Island Preacher. Mark Lewis Jones, best known to UK TV viewers from the show Stella is perhaps the biggest surprise of all in that he clearly realises he’s got a stage to stand on and he really does take the opportunity. He’s definitely the M.V.P. of Evans’ film. The Welsh director has factored in a lot of unique but not wholly disparate elements into what is an entertaining piece that asks questions of religion, faith, family and man’s predilection towards violence.
It’s far from subtle, the violence is grisly and unflinching and some of its narrative vagaries may polarise some viewers who may also have issue with its slow, meandering first half. Those willing to allow the film to play out will likely be rewarded as it certainly picks up pace and ramps the tension as all those nearly disparate elements form a fairly satisfying and cohesive whole, a bold and quite unique piece of cinema (in the home) that delivers with some stunning imagery from an assured filmmaker who has once more shown his inate ability to enthral with his confident and uncompromising vision.
Film ‘89 Verdict – 7/10
Apostle is available on Netflix now (regional variances may apply).