Apostle Review: Netflix’s New Horror Is a Cut Above Your Regular Spooky Movie

0
34

Dan Stevens stars in this gory Wicker Man-inspired story.

Netflix’s latest foray into big-time original filmmaking, Gareth Evans’s Apostle, will feel familiar to you at first. There’ve already been comparisons to The Wicker Man in early reviews of the film, in which Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) must infiltrate a mysterious island cult to rescue his sister, held for ransom by the fanatical and charismatic cult leader Malcolm (Michael Sheen).

The opening exchanges check nearly every box in the great horror playbook: A sparse but deeply unsettling title sequence, a perilous journey to the aforementioned island, allusions to some unseen but apparently not-all-that-benevolent higher power guiding the cult’s inhabitants, and even giggling masked children. Evans leaves no stone unturned in building a terrible world for Thomas to explore in the film’s first hour.

So how, then, do you make an effective horror movie in 2018? Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere, and the opening half of Apostle is a masterclass in the exercise. What’s in the shed Malcolm keeps hidden away from the rest of the compound, accessible only by a secret tunnel from his own home? Why do the island residents leave mason jars filled with their own blood outside their doors at night? Evans builds tension like a seasoned horror filmmaker, despite this being his first foray into the genre (and, indeed, his first film made in the English language, following the widely-adored Indonesian hitsThe Raid and The Raid 2.

As Thomas, Stevens excels at being his normal wild-eyed self. If you’ve seen an episode of Legion, you get the gist: it’s empathetic and interesting but intensely (almost furiously) confused. Better is the cast surrounding him, in particular Sheen and Lucy Boynton, who plays Andrea, Malcolm’s daughter.

Sheen spoke to GQ before the film’s release about Malcolm, who bucks the trend of evil and spooky for evil and spooky’s sake. “It’s far more interesting [for me] if I’m playing someone who is genuinely trying to bring about something that will benefit people, something that will be for the greater good and yet, it’s been corrupted and turned into something that’s destroying peoples’ lives rather than helping them.”

In fact, Malcolm’s arc is plenty more interesting than Thomas’s, who has little to learn or do once his sister’s fate is revealed. This is Sheen’s best role in a long time, even considering his place in the pantheon of the best guest stars in 30 Rock history (“There’s only one Wesley Snipes,” he reminds me later during our talk). Malcolm has more complex concerns at hand. His island co-founders don’t quite agree with how he’s running the place, see, and when the truth behind that “higher power” we heard about earlier is fully revealed, Malcolm’s plans become all the more transparent and precarious.

Evans himself said he’d prefer the political machinations of the film’s back half to feel subtextual, but it’s hard not to read some very modern allegories into the ego-driven power struggles between Malcolm, right-hand-man Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), and Frank (Paul Higgins, whose In The Loop scene is seared into my memory as one of the best movie moments of all time).

It’s in this back half where the well-built horror machine of the first half gives way to a more character-driven and political tone, in the vein of quieter but equally intense works like Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England (which Evans says was indeed a major influence). To its credit, Apostle does provide some awfully creative gore now and again to remind us we’re watching a genre film.

By the time Apostle reaches its endgame, which rather amusingly plays out like a mashup of The Exorcist and Little Shop of Horrors, the terror crafted from its steady approach to building the island’s mystique dissipates, and for all Evans’s hard work, we get a fairly mechanical action movie conclusion. The final shot gives us one last disturbing image, but it neither comes as a surprise nor does it linger in the mind. But while Apostle might not entirely stick its landing, its work in getting there is an admirable example of what modern horror can be.

Source : https://www.gq.com/story/apostle-netflix-horror-movie-review