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The Road to Halloween Part I: Horror Movie Review: ‘Apostle’ (Netflix 2018)

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Image via Netflix screen capture

Apostle, directed by Gareth Evans, is a courageous, scary and somewhat realistic horror movie.

Halloween is less than two weeks away, and therefore it is that time of year to turn the lights out, curl up with a blanket and prepare to be scared out of your wits with a wide array of horror movies! Leading up to Halloween, I will be writing a series of articles about horror movies that I recommend, new and old, Indian and American, that traverse a multitude of sub-genres within the broader horror genre. Our first entry for this series is Netflix’s newly released film Apostle, directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid franchise).

Apostle, a period film, tells the tale of Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), a young man who goes on a mission to save his sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys), who is being held hostage by a religious extremist cult on an island. Upon arriving on the island, and during the course of his search, he meets a myriad of interesting and odd characters, who reveal more and more about the disturbing nature of the island and the secrets that it holds. Will Thomas find Jennifer? Will he be caught? What is the origin of the cult on the island? These questions form the central crux of the movie’s plot.

In terms of performances, each and every actor has done their role with aplomb. Dan Stevens is marvelous as the leading man, lending fearlessness to his performance which is driven more by silence and facial expressions than dialogue. Michael Sheen also springs a great performance as Malcolm Howe, the cult leader, who is a more layered character than what is perceived at first. Mark Lewis Jones instills fear in the audience as the crazed Quinn, while Lucy Boynton lends compassion to the film with her role as Andrea. Bill Milner and Kristine Froseth add innocence to the film, which is experienced by the audience all too briefly.

Gareth Evans has written and directed quite an interesting piece for Netflix with this film. The slow burn build up to the harrowing 30 minute climax is superbly done, and the suspense of figuring out what exactly is going on, is done deftly. There are no unnecessary scenes, and the film maintains a consistent tone throughout. As a result, the audience never gets disengaged, despite the leisurely pacing of the film. Sometimes, this pacing kills a movie, but here, Evans, also the editor, gets it just right.

The cinematography is beautiful. As I understand, the film was shot in Wales, and we get some glorious shots of the natural beauty surrounding the island-like country. The movie’s score is minimal, but makes its presence felt appropriately.

I would also caution that this movie is not for the fainthearted. It is quite violent and sad, but for the first time, I truly felt that showing this was necessary. Sequences such as the “punishment for love” (you will know what I am referring to when you see the movie) or Thomas’ escape toward the climax, are horrifying but show the animalistic nature of the practices that the cult follows. Additionally, one sequence in particular had me on the edge of my seat, which I call the “claustrophobic scene”. These sequences will remain etched in your mind long after the film finishes.

Apostle, from a sub-genre perspective, would fall under the category that also characterizes movies such as The Wicker Man, Shutter Island and Lord of the Flies. The reason for this is that these films involve journeys to mysterious islands and the fallout that results as a product of the isolation the individuals have to face on the island. In The Wicker Man, we have a man who journeys to a creepy island only to find out a horrific secret in the end. In Lord of the Flies, we have children stranded on an island who slowly descend into the dark recesses of human nature and survival, leading to savagery, loss of innocence and death. In Shutter Island, we also see the fear of being on an island which may not be all that it seems. Apostle fits into this similar construct. Here the horror is not so much supernatural (though that may be debatable when you see the film), but rather comes from other humans. In reality, nothing in the world we live in produces more harm than our own humankind, and Apostle displays this masterfully.

The film is not a re-tread of the films that I have mentioned. Rather, it questions other aspects of similar themes such as morality, honor and faith. At first glance, we look at these attributes as positive things, but the film turns those perceptions on their head. Morality is subjective, honor sometimes comes at a terrible price and too much faith can blindside practicality. These central questions are what I took away from this movie.

All in all, Apostle is a courageous, scary and somewhat realistic horror movie. It is intelligent. So if you are looking for a Conjuring, Halloween, Scream, Halloween, or Exorcist here, this is not the tenor of Apostle. I strongly recommend it and give it a 4/5. Hope you will find it a “scream” worth watching. It is now streaming on Netflix.

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