By Michael Kalafatis (Stoke on Trent)
In 1905, Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) has to infiltrate a religious cult that resides in a remote island called Erisden, and find his kidnapped sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys). On the island he will become acquainted with Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen) who is the cult leader, he has created a self-sustained society that he governs with the help of Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones) and Frank (Paul Higgins). The reason behind the kidnapping of Jennifer has its source in the failing of crops and stillborn animals which threatens Erisden with an imminent danger of starvation, hence Prophet Malcolm’s plan to kidnap someone who comes from an affluent family and demand a large amount of money for her freedom.
The first hour of Apostle unfolds in a languid and slow pace while simultaneously introduces its key players, this first part also includes some very tense and brief explosions of violence.
This beginning is very unexpected as it comes from Gareth Evans, who is known for his two Raid films, both films are very violent and visceral, but also on Apostle things starts to get more violent and preternatural as the second part begins. The juxtaposition between the first and second part makes the film feel more coherent, the start was Evans giving us small clues of the dark secrets enveloping Erisden, like the sudden appearances of a ghostly pale woman and the jars full of blood that everyone leaves outside their doors. The second part is when everything starts to make sense albeit in scenes of prolong torture, bloodshed, horror and dread, indicating that the he kidnapping of Jennifer is just a piece of a puzzle that leads to the various mysteries that ominously hovers on the society of Erisden.
Religion is the nucleus of Apostle, Thomas is a former missionary who has lost his beliefs, he is a hopeless drifter and the abduction of his sister has paradoxically manage to save him from a path of despair and desolation. This quest has provided Thomas with a chance to reconnect with his only sister while also being a part of a community that shares a similar belief even though that belief is towards a sinister cult. The community of Erisden has isolated itself in a small island, it resembles an infinitesimal country, even though everything seems to be going well this harmonious facade is only an illusion fabricated by Prophet Malcolm. Prophet Malcolm is at the core of Erisden, everything revolves around him, he is a false prophet who manipulates desperate and jaded people. He has even written a book similar to the Bible that everyone in Erisden knows by heart and it is the only book that is allowed in the island.
Apostle like most Netflix original content like the recently released 22 July, Hold the Dark and most of its series like the Marvel’s Daredevil, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have one very similar trait, their narrative are bloated and slow. This is also obvious on Apostle, the first act has a very languid pace, that is not a bad thing though but only if there is a justification otherwise the narrative remains in stasis. The first part unhurriedly unfolds its central themes, characters and locations, but it lingers on scenes that are superfluous or far too long. With the deduction of these scenes Apostle could have been a much better viewing experience but fortunately these problems are not as obvious as in other original Netflix films because Evans has created a idiosyncratic world that has interesting characters. Also the mystery at its core creates a lot of tension in the first part before the explosion of violence and gore in the second part.
The score written by Fajar Yusekemal and Aria Prayogi creates the right accompaniment for Apostle’s gory, eerie and frightening world. It is more prominent in the first part, it creates a lot of tension while Thomas covertly looks for his sister after curfew( everyone is required to sleep at a certain time) or when a pale woman fleetingly appears at various moments. The score at certain moments features screeching violins that invokes Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho soundtrack. The score has a similar trajectory with the narrative of Apostle, at the first act is sombre and eerie and in the second act it becomes more explosive and frightening. Thus Evans in the second part manages to attack our auditory and visual senses while providing a satisfying ending.
Verdict: Apostle does have a slow and languid pace while it introduces its characters and various themes and location. This misstep is salvaged by the change of pace in the second act, where things start to become more coherent with unending scenes of gore, torture, mutilation and horror.