DI­REC­TOR Gareth Ed­wards CAST Dan Stevens, Lucy Boyn­ton, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Mil­ner, Kris­tine Froseth, Paul Hig­gins, Michael Sheen

Empire (Australasia) - - On.Screen -

PLOT In 1905, a man named Thomas Richard­son (Dan Stevens) in­fil­trates a strange re­li­gious cult on the re­mote is­land of Erisen af­ter they kid­nap his sis­ter and de­mand a ran­som. Can he find her be­fore the com­mune’s wary cultists fig­ure out he isn’t the faith­ful, god­dess­wor­ship­ping dis­ci­ple he pre­tends to be?

WITH THE RAID, Welsh writer-di­rec­tor Gareth Evans took the ac­tion genre and turned it up a bru­tal notch, de­liv­er­ing a ki­netic thriller that made us wince with plea­sure. Now (af­ter that film’s less suc­cess­ful se­quel) Evans has shifted gears and aims to make us wince in a very dif­fer­ent way with an eerie hor­ror that — quelle sur­prise — hardly holds back on the bru­tal­ity.

The Apos­tle’s ‘cult is­land’ set­ting sug­gests the heavy in­flu­ence of

The Wicker Man, but Evans’ bloody trib­ute has lit­tle of that film’s sub­tlety, and not an iota of its wit. Where Sum­merisle was the kind of place peo­ple would be happy to live, Apos­tle’s is­land of Erisen is bleak, harsh and grubby, run by a stout, dour prophet (Michael Sheen) who has a trun­cheon-wag­gling min­imili­tia to keep or­der and re­quires his fol­low­ers to give blood do­na­tions to the mad-hag ‘god­dess’ they re­vere. So it’s hardly sur­pris­ing to learn, as Dan Stevens’ cult-in­fil­trat­ing Thomas does, there are cracks be­neath the sur­face of this grim com­mune.

Thomas has some cracks be­neath his own sur­face, too, wrestling with a dark past that’s not sat­is­fy­ingly ex­plored and a lau­danum ad­dic­tion that’s too con­ve­niently side-lined. He’s hardly the most in­ter­est­ing pro­tag­o­nist, spend­ing al­most every scene scowl­ing mood­ily through his low­ered eye­brows. Ex­cept the ones where he sud­denly, strangely turns into an ac­tion hero.

Yes, de­spite be­ing a hor­ror, there are fight scenes. But any­one hop­ing for Raid-style su­per-pugilism will be dis­ap­pointed; aside from some neat pike ac­tion, Apos­tle is nowhere near as in­spired. Evans is more into the tor­ture side of hurt with this movie, bring­ing the pain with vices, a big corkscrew and a mas­sive man­gle. How­ever, as much as all this will make you squirm in your seat, the film fails to crank the ten­sion as well as it does its death con­trap­tions.

There’s no sense of slow-burn­ing dread on this creepy is­land trip. In­stead we lurch vi­o­lently from eerie scene to eerie scene, with the story’s su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments prov­ing more con­fus­ing than un­set­tling. And for all its ef­forts to make you scream, Apos­tle doesn’t re­ally have much to say. DAN JOLIN

VER­DICT A mud­dled Wicker Man-in­spired hor­ror that has bursts of style, but fails to find depth be­neath its blood­spew­ing sur­face.

The beard com­pe­ti­tion was a bru­tal af­fair.

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