Review by LL Soares
A stew made of great ingredients, APOSTLE (2018) comes to an enjoyable boil. First off, it’s directed (and written) by the talented Gareth Evans, who gave us the exceptional action movies in THE RAID franchise – THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011, aka THE RAID) and THE RAID 2 (2014). It also stars Dan Stevens, who, since his time as Matthew Crawley in DOWNTON ABBEY (the role most people know him from), has been making some very interesting career choices—including starring roles in THE GUEST (2014), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017), and the wildly chaotic FX series LEGION. Here, he’s our protagonist, Thomas Richardson. Michael Sheen, who has played such disparate roles as Tony Blair in THE QUEEN (2006), David Frost in FROST/NIXON (2008), and Dr. William Masters in the Showtime series MASTERS OF SEX (2013 – 2016), is our main antagonist, Prophet Malcolm.
When we first see Thomas Richardson, he has returned home after a long (and violent) ordeal as a missionary in China, only to immediately set out on a journey to an island where his sister, Jennifer (Elen Rhys) is being held for ransom. His rich father is suffering from dementia, and Richardson has to handle the situation himself. He is given the ransom money, but told not to part with it unless he has to. He takes a train, and then a ship to the kidnappers’ island, where a pagan cult, led by Prophet Malcolm, lives a life of (seemingly) simple devotion: attending church services, working the land, and living in simple homes.
Malcolm was once in prison, falsely convicted (he claims), and escaped with two other men, Frank (Paul Higgins) and Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones). Malcolm says that as soon as he was upon the island, he heard the voice of the goddess who lived there, declaring him her voice among men. They created their colony, and pilgrims arrive on a regular basis to be part of it.
Richardson does not reveal who he is, as he infiltrates the community. In fact, when he notices an odd red mark on his certificate to enter the island (which the kidnappers sent his father), he makes sure to switch it with the unmarked certificate of another pilgrim (which has unfortunate results for that man). During the day, Richardson pretends to be one of them, and at night, he searches for the whereabouts of his sister.
He finds a reluctant ally in Jeremy (Bill Milner), the teenaged son of the island elder Frank, who is having a secret love affair with Ffion (Kristine Froseth), the daughter of island founder Quinn. Richardson agrees not to tell their parents about the love affair if Jeremy will help him find his sister. Meanwhile, Malcolm’s daughter, Andrea (Lucy Boynton), who also acts as the community’s doctor, has taken a liking to our hero.
The community is running out of money and resources, which is why they have taken to kidnapping rich kids. But Prophet Malcolm and his friends are going nuts trying to track down the stranger among them. They know he’s there (because of that marked certificate), and they desperately want the money he should have brought with him, but they can’t smoke him out. Richardson eludes them further when he risks his life to prevent an assassination attempt by a spy, sent by the English King. This makes Malcolm trust him, which works to his advantage.
Meanwhile, the community proves it’s not so benevolent, when transgressors are brutally tortured in the town square. And why are the people encouraged to bleed a bit into jars each night?
And what of the weird hut in the middle of the woods, occupied by a constantly bloodied, beast-like man wearing a mask of bandages? What is he doing there?
By the time we learn the island’s creepy secret, everyone’s true intentions will come to light.
Stevens, who has proven himself to be a very watchable actor, is terrific here as the dour, angry Richardson, who is definitely capable of violence when it’s needed. Sheen is quite good as Prophet Malcolm as well, a man devoted to his faith and his daughter, who may not be at peace with the awful things he has been forced to do. I thought all of the acting here was very good, and Evans has given us a strong script, and even stronger direction.
The film has a feeling of dark foreboding throughout. There is darkness and dirt everywhere, and while this creates for a strong atmosphere, there are scenes where it’s so dark, it’s hard to fully see what’s going on. And that’s my biggest complaint. The pacing is a bit slow here and there as well, but it wasn’t enough to bother me too much.
APOSTLE is currently streaming on Netflix, and is one of my favorite movies of 2018 so far. I give it four knives.
© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives APOSTLE ~ four knives.