Gareth Evans is probably best known for his forays into martial arts with The Raid films. Given that these were so critically successful it seemed obvious that Netflix would be calling at some point to offer him a deal. The film he chose to do is so far removed from his previous work given its setting and story.
Thomas is a man who was dead. As far as his family were concerned he perished some time ago. it took the persistence of a lawyer to find him in the family’s hour of need. They have received a letter from Thomas’s sister detailing her kidnap and what is required to set her free. With his father’s mind gone it is up to Thomas to travel to a remote Scottish island, infiltrate the religious cult there and rescue his sister.
This is a disturbing film from the off. when we are introduced to Thomas he is a wreck of a man. why he was missing presumed dead is not disclosed at first but it is obvious that he is a man who has troubles that stretch down to his very soul. His self medication from a small brown bottle and a haunted look give the impression that he would prefer to be dead. Dan Stevens, as Thomas, proves once more that he is an actor that immediately grabs your attention. His screen presence here pulls you in to his performance in such a way that you are repelled and also rooting for him at every turn.
The other major role is that of the leader of the community as played by Michael Sheen. He is an imposing figure with shorn hair, a full beard and his walking stick fashioned from a tree branch. He is a mix of the Calvinistic fire and brimstone preacher and more welcoming father figure. Of course these two traits in opposition can have a deadly consequence. It is a powerhouse performance which is intimidating, disturbing but still very compelling.
The set up is delivered to the audience in a few well thought out scenes. Rather than using some heavy exposition the community, its inhabitants and their beliefs are described in both dialogue and images. There is terrific sound design in use which creates a real sense of tension and impending terror. It fuels with the score to form an aural experience that subtly adds to the film without becoming a distraction.
The myths behind the island and the entity that the people worship forms the major part of the second half of the film. The reason behind the major plot strand is explained in terms of the history of the island and how the community came to initially prosper there but have now fallen on hard times with crops dying and livestock stillborn. There is an ecological message behind it all that reflects our current concerns with how we are not treating nature with the respect it deserves and how this could be fatal for everyone.
Netflix may have had a hit and miss year so far but they have got a very effective and creepy horror with Apostle.