Gareth Evans' grand entrance onto the stage of Western genre cinema passes with little fanfare in Apostle, a film of conceptual ambition and sporadic technical aptitude that nevertheless pales in comparison to his achievements in The Raid franchise. Yet Apostle is a superior film to both of those titles, in no small part due to accident - Evans reaches higher here, but misjudges the extent of that reach; he repeats this fumbled process on an array of disparate fronts, and for all his failings may still be in pursuit of something far finer than the tedious banality of the second Raid installment and the heinous barbarity of both. Perhaps, were Evans' intentions as base as they were then, this would be as calamitous a title, arguably more so in its lack of such sublime stunt work as was exhibited there.
If this reads like faint praise, or like the deeply muddled thoughts of a bemused viewer, then it reads right. Apostle is a most curious movie, jostling between one notion and another, from unfulfilled promises to baffling surprises, from dull predictability to bizarre invention, with little ever wholly coalescing. In search of a steady centre, the viewer is cast adrift on a sea of strange creative impulses, as lead Dan Stevens - though a capable performer and an underrated action star - registers his portrayal of a man in the early 20th Century, infiltrating an island cult to rescue his kidnapped sister, somewhere between manic and enigmatic. Evans chucks a lot at this concept, less signalling toward a variety of different horror movie paths down which he could tread than treading down each and all of them in turn, barely even settling on a definitive route upon movie's end. Apostle is thus frequently surprising, though also frequently not, and is all rather confounding as a result.
Scenes appear unfinished and only half-thought through, while individual moments demonstrate considerable power. Ideas provoke unexpected thoughts and elicit strong emotional responses, while others wither early and/or often, and their multitude inspires only a desertion of one's faith in this movie to deliver on any of its many promises. Apostle is like an open-ended TV series condensed into a single, two-hour expression of unbounded imagination, from its bountiful potential to its desperate Season 6 twists and its cancellation-stage chaotic internal logic. There's a lot to enjoy here, certainly, and a lot to admire, but then that's mostly just because there's a lot here in general, and most of it not particularly good.
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