Oct 14, 2018
Welcome back to another week of reviews! No new sponsors this week, but we’re also still working on our Patreon campaign. It gives me a chance to fit in a couple extra Netflix Original films this week, and I can’t tell you how excited I was for this film. For a few related films from producer XYZ Films, check out “The Most Assassinated Woman in the World” (Episode #255) and “I Kill Giants” (Episode #177). And check out Dan Stevens in the live action “Beauty and the Beast” (Episode #030) and Michael Sheen in “Brad’s Status” (Episode #074). And if you have any suggestions, let me at onemoviepunch.com.
Today’s movie is “Apostle” (2018), the Netflix Original film written and directed by Gareth Evans, the driving force behind two of my favorite films, “The Raid: Redemption” and “The Raid 2”. The film follows Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), who returns to London in 1905 to discover his sister has been kidnapped by a religious cult. Now Thomas heads to their island to confront their leader Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), and to free his sister from their grip.
If anyone was going into this film looking for “The Raid” in the early 1900s, they are going to be sorely disappointed. Sure, we get a few raw action moments from those angles that only Evans seems to be able to capture, but that’s all the look and feel we get from the previous franchise. Or is it? It’s easy to get blinded by the intense action of both “Raid” films, but beneath that action lies well-defined characters and tragic, almost impossible situations where “the right thing” is hard to discern. And “Apostle” has all those elements, transformed from modern Indonesia to early 20th century Britain, a time when Aleister Crowley was creating Thelema out of old occultist writings, and Lovecraft was just beginning his fiction, and all these dark elements begin to coalesce in a unique time, and it is here we meet Thomas Richardson.
One aspect of “Apostle” I really appreciate is that, similar to characters in “The Raid”, we’re only given as much information about the character as Evans allows, even as events are playing out before us. The trailer, thankfully, was pretty vague about anything but the initial premise, avoiding the depth of almost all the characters. And as we learn more about the environment, and each character’s backstory, and the mysterious secrets of the island, we begin to move away from a standard rescue story into much darker territory. We learn about Thomas’ backstory and realize that we’re no longer sure to whom the title “Apostle” actually refers to. And then things get really, really gnarly.
Because in addition to the rise of occultist writings, and alternative religious and economic ideas of the time, we also have the rise of scientific rationalism, and it is within Thomas Richardson that we see these two ideas go to war. He has clearly rejected all forms of religiosity from his personal experience, but he also comes face to face with something outside the realm of scientific rationalism. He is also up against brutal forms of punishment and control, as the serene idea of this religious community is underpinned by dark secrets and an ignorant populace. And ultimately, a failing community, as it begins to fall apart, and they start breaking out the much-hyped torture device, which while not having anything near the graphic layers of torture porn like “Saw” or “Hostel”, still packed just enough punch, and probably as tasteful as any cinematic depiction of medieval torture could be. Great script, great direction, really great cast and messaging, and to top it all off, simply awesome costumes, sets and effects, from beginning to end.
“Apostle” (2018) is a dark look into the nature of apostleship, as told through a rescue story in a remote religious community. Gareth Evans, while not bringing all the insane action of his previous films, does bring the same complex characters and difficult situations to a whole new genre. Fans of Gareth Evans’ work may not find exactly what they are looking for, but I believe will find something that helps expand our appreciation for Evans as a writer and director. And fans of occultist or alternative religious communities should definitely check out this film, as long as you don’t mind a little trepanning between community members.
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
One Movie Punch: 8.8/10
“Apostle” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix and in select theaters.