Binge Review 6: Apostle

One of the drawbacks of Netflix is the sheer amount of content that becomes available on a monthly basis. I know the site excises shows and movies on the regular, but the volume of present media is so enormous, a lot of the new stuff gets lost in the shuffle. Of course, there is advertising to consider, but for some reason, I had no idea that one of the dozen films I have anticipated this year came out two weeks ago.

Apostle is directed by Gareth Evans, the man behind the amazing Raid movies. To my knowledge this is his first English language film and a dramatic departure from his previous work. Instead of another visceral action thriller, we get a macabre horror movie. Taking place in the early 20th Century we follow Thomas, played by Dan Stevens, who travels to an island to rescue his sister from a cult. As he investigates her whereabouts, Thomas unravels the dark mystery behind the cult’s beliefs.

From the outset Apostle is obvious about its macabre nature. Livestock is sacrificed, people are butchered, and others bleed themselves into jars. The film has no illusions about what it is; it knows you have seen Wicker Man or read Shadow Over Innsmouth, two of its biggest influences. Even the three main leaders of the cult are open about the faults in their beliefs like they are critiquing the script. What makes the movie stand apart from its artistic peers is how it handles these ideas.

The real truth behind what is going on is kept in the dark until roughly three-quarters in. The build up is focused on establishing a sense of relative unease. You understand the cult’s island community is oppressed and on the verge of collapse. The people are doing weird things to themselves and each other and it is difficult to figure if what is going on is supernatural. Given how the leaders are charlatans in way over their heads, you cannot tell if they are scamming people or it is real.

The horror elements are both kept to a minimum and saved for later. At first Apostle is very bloody with people cutting themselves or getting cut. What it means I cannot give away, but it does a great job of setting up what is to come. Even when the gore grows more intense it is not overtly emphasized like torture porn. Actual physical violence, however, is blatant and does not shy away from brutality. With Evans’ action background, these scenes are shown with visceral flair, compounded by the fact all the characters use knives.

Of the performances Stevens is the best. From The Guest to Legion, the man is a practiced character actor that steals the show. In every scene he sells Thomas’s pain and anguish from past trauma written on his face and in his actions without over doing it. Michael Sheen and Mark Lewis Jones provide great support as two of the cult leaders. The former tries to keep everything together while the latter is a loose cannon tired of playing second banana. Jones was also the admiral in the opening of Last Jedi and the voice of Letho in the Witcher games. Thought I should mention that if he seems familiar to you.

Apostle was a pleasant surprise. Being such a departure from his previous work, Evans could have mishandled this and trashed his career with only two other features to his name. In a world saturated in content and a lack of quality horror films, Apostle is just what we need. If you have Netflix, give it a watch. It is also makes for a great Halloween movie and I am going to watch it a second time.

Movie Review: Passengers

So far it has been a good couple of years for science fiction. The Martian, Arrival, Interstellar, and Star Trek Beyond are great examples of new material that epitomize the essence of the genre. More often than not do we see movies that are science fiction in name only, using similar elements as an excuse for nonsense. Every once in a while there comes the genuine article that reminds me of why I love the genre so much. Was Passengers more great science fiction or should I have watched Assassin’s Creed instead?

While aboard the starship Avalon on their way to a new planet 120 years away from Earth Jim and Aurora, played by Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, wake up 90 years too early. As the try to deal with the inherent existential crisis, problems begin to arise throughout the ship that they must fix to keep everyone else alive, and stay on course.

That whole paragraph is as much a lie as the trailers. Whatever you thought Passengers was is entirely the opposite once you sit down to watch it. I cannot explain the nuances without spoiling key moments. It helps knowing nothing about what really happens going in. What I will say is Passengers takes a compelling look at human cooperation and purpose with its premise and characters.

Apart from that, the film is quite unremarkable. Its closest counterpart is Pandorum, an indie horror thriller about cryostasis. The aesthetic is also very unoriginal with bright lights and sleek metal sets pulled from A.I., I, Robot, and a lot of other science fiction from the past decade-and-a-half.

As tradition dictates, the characters are subject to logic and a set of rules. The Avalon is more of a luxury cruiser than a transport where only certain passengers are allowed privileges and access to different parts of the ship. Jim and Aurora are civilians, so they cannot go to ship personnel areas that would help their situation. A large portion of the first third is spent establishing how everything works before they are confronted with challenges.

On that note, Pratt and Lawrence were superb. They played off of each other rather nicely with their combined charisma. Pratt brought more humor and naiveté where Lawrence kept the film grounded with a measure of seriousness and cynicism. Their interactions inform each of their character’s shortcomings, making them all the more compatible.

Passengers may not be the next big thing, but it is good science fiction. It has everything one would expect and does it very well, despite being more overhyped than Destiny and Titanfall. If you want to see something besides the heartless, passionless Rogue One, look no further.