In 1905, Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) is a missionary who has returned from China a broken man, but he will have to draw on all his reserves of strength if he wants to get through this next ordeal. His sister has joined a religious cult in recent months, but this is the last he has heard of her and now he realises he must travel to the cult's remote island off the Welsh coast if he wants to retrieve her safely. On arrival by boat, he is met with a group of other pilgrims by one of the leader's right-hand men who tells them they must divest themselves of all worldly goods aside from their clothes and personal effects - and that includes all writing paper and books, for no record must be made.
Apostle was the film Gareth Evans made after he hit the big time internationally with his two martial arts epics, The Raid and The Raid 2, which were produced in the Far East, but he returned to the West for this horror movie, plainly inspired by The Wicker Man, as many were wont to point out. This was sold to Netflix after a brief festival engagement, and once again it was not difficult to see why, as for most viewers, if they had paid to see this on a night out at the pictures, they would probably have felt seriously cheated. After a short wave of praise, this began to suffer a negative reputation, as was the case with too many films that more or less went straight to this platform.
In fact, there was an unwelcome pattern forming here: take one promising filmmaker, give them a deal to release their latest effort, then reveal their talent has mysteriously deserted them somewhere along the journey from script to screen and a whole bunch of folks who caught this on their TVs or tablets think, yep, another disappointing Netflix movie, there. Not that there was one particular shared reason artistically why these efforts were so unsatisfying, but self-indulgence could have been a uniting folly, especially here as the film sprawled through a wholly unnecessary two hours plus. You would need the patience of a saint to watch Apostle all the way through, no breaks.
And funnily enough, Evans had religion on his mind, specifically the persecution of the saints and the torture they had to suffer, here translated into an increasing number of such fates inflicted on the characters which may have been unpleasant, but there was no wit, no insight into what drives the faithful to acts of violence in the name of their deity. It was simply accepted that if you were devout enough in your belief, it would either leave you a victim of the savagery of an alternate faith or committing those atrocities yourself. A more interesting angle might have been to explore how people can behave appallingly even without religion should they be blinded by whatever had turned them into fanatics with no perspective. But nope, Evans chose to render his villains as actually in league with a supernatural power.
As this wore on, and Stevens got to do his confused but intense facial expression with increasing regularity, the deadening effect of the weighty yet tedious atmosphere was doing Apostle no favours in the entertainment stakes, especially if you liked movies with even a glimmer of humour. No jokes here, simply a bunch of obnoxious men throwing themselves around, and of course punishing women for their own faults, as often Evans' past in action flicks would make itself plain in scenes where the men would struggle with one another, bloodily if need be, to the point of eye-rolling, "get a room" pointlessness. It was difficult to perceive exactly what he had seen in this material aside from the chance to show people beating each other up and cutting chunks out of their bodies (and heads): it just wasn't enough to justify the amount of time not only he spent on it, but the amount of time he was asking the audience to spend on it as well. Music by Aria Prayogi and Fajar Yuskemal, which gets a bit plinky-plonky.