Apostle is a different kind of horror movie. While the plot is relatively straightforward (brother goes to creepy island to save sister from creepy cult), what really sets it apart from other horror movies is the care it takes in details and style to craft a genuinely creepy and atmospheric experience.
Dan Stevens plays main character Thomas Richardson who, after returning home after a traumatic religious mission in China, receives a ransom letter for his sister from a pagan cult living isolated on an island. Dan Stevens as an actor more known for his romantic roles (cousin Matthew in Downton Abbey, the Beast in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast), but here brings a jittery, slurred, bitter energy to his character. Thomas is an actively dislikable character for the first half of the movie, but is infused with such intensity, specificity, and intelligence by Dan Stevens that you find yourself still rooting for him.
A lot of Apostle’s success as a film can be traced back to the talent involved in making it. The director and writer is Gareth Evans, a relatively new director who nonetheless is best known as the talent behind The Raid, a small but prestigious action film infamous for its tension. Gareth Evans brings that ability to build tension effectively to Apostle: the entire movie is taut and tense and thick with the expectation of sudden horror or violence. It’s in the small details of filmmaking that Gareth Evans really makes Apostle stand out, though.
The sound design and soundtrack of the movie is incredible, full of jarring strings and sharp notes laid out like a bed of rusty nails. The cinematography is also key to creating the subtle sense of wrongness that fills the movie: there’s good use of Dutch-angled shots to emphasize the strangeness of the cult that dominates the island, and at one point the camera mirrors the point of view of a character as his head is bolted between two screws and forcibly turned until the lens cracks. It’s disturbing and effective, and a flourish you don’t see in most horror movies.
The actual plot of Apostle is pretty direct and doesn’t contain any particularly mind-blowing twists. It is effective and taut, though, without wasted movement or element. It’s a strong skeleton to drape the flourishes and details that make Apostle a horror movie that’s a cut above the rest. The only real disappointment is the ending which feels… expected? Not every movie needs to end with a bang, but the ending to Apostle is easy to see coming and doesn’t really tie into theme or character arc.
Still, if you’re at all interested in horror, you owe it to yourself to give Apostle a watch. It’s on Netflix, which means if you have a subscription (or, more likely, a friend’s password) it’s essentially free to watch. If nothing else, Apostle proves that there are still new things to be done in the horror genre, and that Gareth Evans is a director to watch out for in the future.