“Listen to his words!” screams a young woman in Apostle, while men who are blinded by their faith ignore her and inflict their brand of shame via torture. Those looking for modern social commentary might find something lurking here, but this is best suited to gorehounds.
Netflix’s much-touted horror original, from The Raid duology director Gareth Evans, is a better watch if you haven’t seen the trailer, which invokes Evans’ pedigree as an martial arts movie maestro. Internet gripes mention feeling misled by the trailer’s action-packed editing, suggesting a faster-paced beat-em-up than the slow-burner Wicker Man-inspired chiller we end up with.
The plot is thus: recovering laudanum addict Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) is despatched to a mysterious island to investigate his sister’s kidnapping by a pagan cult. Upon arrival, he assumes the identity of a stranger and meets the community’s leader Malcolm (Michael Sheen), and attempts to gain his trust. Unfortunately, he makes some pretty idiotic decisions thereafter (giving his real surname at registration; drawing a map and not bloody hiding it) – which could have been explained by his narcotic addiction, but the film chooses to The Room it under the rest of the plot. Oh, well.
Stuff gets weird and bloody and shocking and even more bloody and shocking (there are many death scenes you shan’t get out of your head); these and the tension leading up to them are where the film’s direction and cinematography shine. Torture scenes are shot with interlacing POVs: first from the victim, and then the perpetrator, so we are forced to take a front seat to both power and pain. Sprinkled throughout are some hints at oppression and populism, but neither are explored enough to leave any lasting impression.
I loved The Raid 2 [er… I never saw the first one], but there is indeed no slick fighting in this one. It’s an entirely different kind of film for Evans, from the time period (1905), genre (folk/body horror), and gore (lots). One thing this does have in common is the 2h 10m runtime, almost half of it spent on world-watching rather than character-building. For an island full of characters, it would have been nice to explore, and then struck a balance between, their interpersonal relationships and the lore of the island’s creature, the latter of which we only get through a muddy flashback.
Speaking of which, said creature is underused, its impact tarnished by a cringily executed jump scare partway through the first act, which crawls to its next. On balance, I’d still recommend it but, with some narrative tweaks, it could have been a blinder. Despite fine performances from Stevens and Sheen, it never quite gets to where it thinks it deserves to be.