Every once in a while, I’ll encounter a film that moves so slowly it’s like it has set time running backwards. Gareth Evans’ Apostle – an extremely slow-burning gothic horror – is the latest production to do this. It absolutely killed me, and not in anyway that could be considered good.
The film starts with Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), a drifter on a mission to rescue his sister from a religious cult. As he spends more and more time within their ranks, it becomes apparent that the commune is built upon secrets and lies that could be its undoing.
Where to begin?
As I said right at the start, Apostle moves at an incredibly slow pace. With a runtime of 2h10m, this does nothing to build the intrigue it was aiming for. Instead, it feels overly long and drawn out. I don’t remember the last time I checked the clock as often as I did whilst watching this. At one point, when roughly an hour had passed, I looked to see how much was left and you can imagine my horror when I saw I was only five minutes into the film. This may be a slight exaggeration, but you get my point. The film is slow!
It’s not just the pacing of the film that makes it seem somewhat lacking in the pulse department however. Apparently it was a requirement of the cult to walk around scowling at everyone in the commune. I have never seen such a large group of people look so miserable for so long in my life. I’m fairly certain there came a point in Apostle where the film just cut to different members of the cult scowling at each other. There’s bleak, and then there’s this. The constant suspicious gaze both bored me and confused me, and pretty soon after, it tired me as well.
However, Apostle is not all doom and gloom
Michael Sheen is a shining light in all that darkness. As cult leader Malcolm, he was tremendous, and did a huge amount to lift the film when he was on-screen. There was a certain amount of gusto about the man which managed to breathe life into these otherwise very dull proceedings. Of course, he didn’t have anywhere near enough screen-time, meaning the magic went as quickly as it came.
Another silver lining of Apostle is that it was directed by Gareth Evans, meaning the scenes that showed any real violence were phenomenally well put together. The man knows how to direct a proper fist fight, I’ll give him that. The choreography of both the actors, stunt-doubles and camera operators were like a well-oiled machine. There wasn’t so much as a hair out of place as far as I could see. I love when you get set-pieces and they’re as well-directed these because you can really enjoy them. There’s nothing worse than action that you can’t wrap your eyeballs around because of how it was shot and edited. For all its sins, Apostle at least got that much right.
Finally, I can’t ignore this film’s score. It is exceptional! My favourite parts were those that relied on what sounded like a thousand untuned violins – they made me want to cut my ears off for how far under my skin they got. It was a welcome accompaniment to all of the film’s more intense scenes, almost making up for the fact that on many occasions I couldn’t actually see what was going on because of how dimly lit the set was.
All boring things draw to a close
Despite my deepest fears, Apostle did eventually come to an end. It’s definitely longer than it has any business being, and regardless of the few glimmers of light it does intermittently give off, it is also duller than rusted iron. There are a few areas in which it tries to redeem itself, but there’s no timeline where this is possible. Would not recommend.