Apostle, written and directed by Gareth Evans, has within it many secrets, mysteries and unyielding brutality, and all of it is enacted by an assortment of severely broken characters who all in their own way have something to them that intrigues you or unsettles you. But is that enough to make Apostle an engaging watch? The quality and answers to some of them are perhaps not. Let’s explore all of this and more in my review, shall we.
Thomas Richardson – played by Dan Stevens – sets out to an isolated and mysterious island to rescue his sister from the clutches of a dangerous and violent cult. What starts out as a simple but treacherous mission, soon turns into something far more unexpected for Richardson and the people who inhabit the island, as forces beyond their knowing come into play, and bodies begin to pile up.
Apostle was a film that certainly lured me in… in the beginning. It laid out a number of elements that had me curious as to what the truths behind the mysteries were, and it had me intrigued to see the path that the dangerous and broken characters would go down – and who they’d drag down those paths with them. It gave me similar vibes to when I first watched the original, The Wicker Man; a mysterious island that holds deadly secrets within it, and a community of people who are definitely not what they seem.
It was these mysteries and the numerous secrets that had me in the beginning. Watching as the leaders of the island argued over the dangers of a spy now being loose upon the island, or watching as they committed heinous acts, while purporting to be a place of safety and freedom from the rules of back home. It all made for a very engrossing watch.
As those mysteries developed and new and intriguing elements came from them, I found myself even more engaged in seeing how they would play out (though it wasn’t enough to fully hold my attention). I didn’t go into this film expecting a spooky supernatural element, but when it revealed itself, I found myself getting excited at the prospects it offered for the rest of the film.
So while my intrigue in the mysteries persisted – but weren’t enough to fully hold me – it was the broken assortment of characters who then also played a part in keeping me engaged (in the beginning). The film’s protagonist (if you can call him that) had some really interesting characteristics that I felt could make for some unexpected twists in the plot’s proceedings. Thomas Richardson isn’t your typical protagonist, in fact there are very few, if any, qualities in him that would suggest he was the protagonist – but he was all there was, and despite his personal demons would have to be relied upon to hopefully get the job done.
I was really interested by the characterisation of Thomas Richardson. He was a man who felt abandoned by his god, and thus he abandoned his faith. He was addicted to drugs, he was clearly not a physically well man, and all of these crutches (plus more) made him someone who struggled moment by moment to function properly. For me, this was a fascinating choice for a leading character. Rather than a dashing hero who’s one step ahead of his pursuers and who seduces everyone with his charms, he was a brash, broken man who cared for no one (including himself) but his sister. That alone was a rich element to explore and create some deliciously wild moments. But as you’ll soon realise to be the case with this film: the promises and the mysteries are far more interesting than the outcomes and the revelations.
Across the board there are some greatly introduced characters, and while most of them are one-note in structure, those singular notes are really interesting (again, in the beginning). It’s an island of broken, lost people and despite their outwardly friendly demeanour, the cracks soon begin to show, and along with their so-called perfect community, they all begin to come crumbling down. I was intrigued by many of the characters and their broken ways. I was interested to see not only how they became such broken individuals but what fate it would make for them. It also helped that Evans assembled a strong cast, who all did a great job of making there seem to be more to their characters than what was on the page. Though I do have to say, Dan Steven’s performance was… odd, and at times and maybe a little too over the top with the emoting.
But with Apostle, there was a continuing and growing theme when it came to my experience with it; there was plenty that drew me in and there was plenty that never had me losing interest with the film, but as it all went on and as the film began to gloss over elements with real potential, or reveal the truths behind its secrets, I began to slowly but surely lose investment in the film and what it had to offer.
Because you see, with Apostle, there were only two primary elements that kept me watching; the intrigue I had for all the film’s mysteries, and also the technical aspects of the film (which I’ll be getting to in a moment). What I never had was any emotional investment. I never cared for the wellbeing of any of the characters – the characteristics and the handling made such a thing impossible for me. It meant that when the story unfolded, and I had learned all I wanted to learn, I had nothing from a storytelling aspect to keep me invested. The outcome of any of the characters stories meant nothing to me. Whether they lived or died, I didn’t care. It came down to the fact that once my engagement of the mind had been spent, there was no engagement of the heart to keep me wanting to be part of the journey.
And just as bad as not being emotionally invested in the film was that all those answers I sought were never ones that I found to be satisfying. Either the film lost my interest before it got to the answer – which was a result of the film not doing a great job of exploring deeper into them as things progressed – or it not offering interesting enough conclusions to some of its most intriguing mysteries. What my experience with Apostle became was an unfortunate situation where the more it went on, the less I cared about what I was watching.
By the end, the only element left in the film that I cared about – a caring that never went away – was the technical side of the film. The striking cinematography by Matt Flannery kept me excited to view each frame of the film. The chilling and overpowering score by Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal kept my tension levels consistently engaged. And the haunting set design by the art department kept the film always looking like a terrifying place to be. All of these parts to the film never faltered. They were always there creating an atmosphere that was inescapable. And when you bond them with the bloody brutality of the film, you have an experience that purely from a sensory side is exciting for any film lover and unsettling for any general audience.
What’s clear to see from the technical side of Apostle is that Gareth Evans is still a really exciting talent in the movie making business. Even if you were to only look at how he operates his camera and not take anything else into consideration, he’s a director I will continue to be excited to watch. How he makes it act like an extension of the characters or an extension of us, the audience, is what makes him such a visually exciting filmmaker to share a journey with (just look at his work on The Raid and The Raid 2 and that’s clear to see).
Here’s the thing with Apostle: it’s not a bad film – not by any stretch. It’s just that it’s a film where it doesn’t feel like everything came together in a way to make a complete and fulfilling experience. I certainly enjoyed elements to the film, and it was never the case where I was bored or wishing for it to end so I could get on with my night. In the end, it’s a film I watched, I was content with the time I spent with it, and I don’t imagine I’ll think much more about it once this review has posted.
I suppose I’ll recommend, Apostle. There are still elements to this film that I think make it worth checking out. I wouldn’t rush to see it, but with it being so readily available on Netflix – a place where talented directors like Gareth Evans need to stop giving their projects over too, as they just get buried, but that’s something I want to talk about in detail at another point. If you have a free evening and are looking for something mildly unnerving to watch; consider checking out Apostle.
I’d be interested to know what you thought of Apostle, and subsequently, my review of it. So please feel free to leave any feedback, opinions or thoughts you may have in the comments section down below. If you like what you read, may I suggest following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – and that way you’ll always be up-to-date on what I’m up to. I’ll bring things to a close now by giving you my fullest and sincerest thanks. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my silly little blog, and I hope you’ll consider returning!