Apostle is a period horror/thriller film that first premiered at Fantastic Fest in September 2018 but later began streaming on Netflix in October of the same year. Often compared to the 1973 film ‘The Wicker Man’, Apostle takes us on Thomas’ journey to rescue his sister after she is held ransom by a cult that has chosen to leave society to begin their own village. The cult worships Her – the island’s goddess, who replenishes the crops and keeps the island healthy and sustainable. But the goddess has not been cooperative as of late, and so the cult's founders take to unethical methods to try and force the goddess into doing as they please. An idea clearly doomed to fail – but that’s the point. Apostle’s strain of horror doesn’t focus upon what would happen if we were haunted by the supernatural, but rather upon what happens when man becomes desperate.
And desperate is definitely the word to use when describing the island’s founders. Frank, Quinn, and the leader, Prophet Malcolm, go to great lengths to make their endeavour worth it. Torture, ransom, blood sacrifices – definitely not a film for the faint of heart. Michael Sheen does a brilliant job at portraying Prophet Malcolm’s desperation to remain a leader in control as everything slowly falls apart. Malcolm’s character is complex – at first, we think him to be the villain, but as the story unveils itself, I began to feel sorry for him. He is a man who has ran out of options, who wishes to do his best for his community, but ultimately begins to crumble. The end of the film shows us who the real ‘villain’ of the hour is – Malcolm’s second in command, Quinn, who is tired of Malcolm’s weak leadership.
Quinn is a bit of a caricature of toxic masculinity. He’s an unsympathetic father who turns to violence to solve literally every problem he encounters. We later learn that instead of worshipping the island goddess, Quinn advocates for the capture and torture in order to control her powers to their own benefit. And when the goddess becomes reluctant to give up her powers? Of course, Quinn decides more violence is the answer, which it obviously isn’t. This is a recurring theme for Quinn. When he finds out his daughter, Ffion, is pregnant, he decides to kill both her and her boyfriend in a fit of rage, instead of taking a mature and sensible approach. Ffion’s pregnancy was the perfect opportunity to add a layer of depth to Quinn’s character, but instead it was used to paint him as a monster – which it did, quite well. I wanted Quinn to show some level of human emotion – perhaps even just a flicker of remorse for what he had done – but instead, I was relieved when his story came to a close.
The lack of character depth was a recurring theme throughout the film. Thomas has a case of protagonist syndrome – no matter what was happening, it would work out in his favour. This is particularly evident during the church interrogation scene. One by one, the newest recruits to the island have to line up and recite a passage from the Island’s religious text – and of course, Thomas has absolutely no idea what to say. I felt rather tense at the beginning of this scene because there was seemingly no way for Thomas to escape. He would be exposed, regardless of whether he tried to bluff his way through a bible verse, or of if he stood up and tried to run away. I thought he was going to be captured, tortured, perhaps even introduced to the true horror of the island! But no, he was saved by another traitor, who just so happened to sneak his way onto the ship, and just so happened to be stood before Thomas in the reciting order. How lucky Thomas must have felt! Two traitors for the price of one! Instead of feeling relieved, like I was supposed to, I found myself thinking, ‘ Wow, they really need tighten island security.’ Bit of an anticlimactic reaction for a scene that was supposed to be a key plot point.
Character issues aside, the film had a lot going for it in terms of artistic direction. The soundtrack was my favourite technical aspect to the films production. It fit the intended aesthetic beautifully, heightening moments of panic with a tense, erratic string arrangement, and filling the air with suspense with low hums and lingering notes. Paired alongside the monochrome colour palette, the film puts us directly into the intended mood purely through its fantastic use of visuals and audio before the story has even begun.
I also rather enjoyed just how gory the film allowed itself to be. I personally enjoy horror because I enjoy things that disturb me, whether that’s paranormal horror, or horror that consists of blood, guts and beatings, and Apostle definitely fits the latter category. Blood was a recurring theme. The island’s inhabitants had to give a nightly blood sacrifice to appease their goddess, which Prophet Malcolm would then feed to the goddess in the hopes that she would restore the island’s vitality. Spoiler: she doesn’t, and her reluctance only encourages the founding trio to eventually resort to even more violence, when their plan to use Thomas’ sister for money doesn’t go according to plan.
Jennifer, Thomas’ kidnapped sister, the one held at ransom. The first, and arguably, main plot point of the film, that I very nearly excluded from this review because I forgot about it. I didn’t care at all about what happened to Jennifer. Her kidnapping served as a way to get Thomas onto the island, and once he was there, she became secondary. The story needed to be told through the eyes of an uninvolved party, and so Jennifer’s purpose was to give someone a motive to travel to the island and unearth its secrets. I didn’t care about whether Thomas saved her, I wanted him to dig deeper into the island’s existence and unearth the secrets that were being kept from us. Rescuing Jennifer felt like a tedious afterthought.
Despite my criticisms, I did thoroughly enjoy the film and have recommended it to many a friend. It may have dragged on in parts, but it fulfilled its purpose as a gory, creepy, and twisted story that we all expect from a good horror film. And so, I award Apostle a solid 6/10.