Apostle is going to divide people. Though, for Gareth Evans, I think that sort of divisive response was baked into his artistic intent. In nearly every way this is a departure from the films he has made before, and the style upon which he has made a career. This is not The Raid.
Perhaps I just have a soft spot for grungy, gory horror with a tinge of supernatural intrigue, but I loved Apostle. Evans has such a strong grasp of atmospherics and horror film language that even when his narrative gets strange, you can't look away from it.
Apostle follows Thomas Richardson, a young drifter who travels to a remote island in order to find his missing sister. While his sister is an integral part of the story, this inciting event really serves to get us onto this island and into the eerie atmosphere it provides.
For those who are expecting high-octane action, you're going to have to wait for the small moments you get. None of the action scenes last for very long, but they are very brutal and very effective. What really holds the film together, instead of action (again, like we are used to with The Raid films), is this boiling sense of suspense and terror. Even the soundtrack represents this uneasiness, with sharp, jagged bursts of distorted violin and slow-building swells of music accompanying the tensest moments of the film.
Evans's direction is strong. It is easy to see that the slow pacing is deliberate, not a consequence of poor writing or direction. At 130 minutes, Evans could definitely have trimmed some fat, but I didn't mind him embellishing some of the quieter scenes. There are some really great character moments through, and I particularly like one sub-plot, even if it was very conventional in terms of its execution.
The acting is great all around. Dan Stevens shows us, yet again, why he's such a great leading man -- especially when it comes to action choreography. He embodies this character well, and the final shot is truly haunting, partially because of what is happening and partially because of Steven's performance. A lot of his emotions are held in his eyes, especially his fear and anxiety. Not only does that work for his character, it also adds to the narrative tension.
The film is not perfect, and the final act will likely turn a lot of people off. I loved it, though; I was on board with the film from the get-go, so when things got turned up to 11, I was even more excited.
The makeup effects in this are next level, too, especially the more gory scenes. This is a film that does not pull any punches. Emboldened by the creative freedom Netflix offers him, Evans was able to get away with a lot of really tough visuals that are sure to drive people away, but they work in the context of the narrative and further embolden the horror.
Overall, for those who go into this expecting The Raid meets The Wicker Man, you're going to be disappointed. However, if you go in expecting a love letter to 70s and 80s cult horror, you will be pleasantly surprised (like I was).
Also, for once, I was able to watch a horror film without being assaulted by defeaning jump scares.