It’s spooky season and, normally, I like to steer clear of any Halloween movie that isn’t from Disney Channel. “Apostle,” however, wrecked that so thoroughly detailed strategy of mine, with its creepy and increasingly gory depiction of life in a religious cult on a remote island which some random white man named Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens, “Downton Abbey”) infiltrates in order to save his sister.
The movie begins with a gorgeous, wide view of the Welsh countryside and a very Harry Potter-esque train peacefully ambling towards the camera. Inside, however, Thomas is anything but peaceful as he gets closer and closer to the home of the cult. Upon arrival to the island, there are various wide-set shots of lush nature, lulling the audience into a false sense of security only to jar them back to reality with a shaky close-up of Thomas’s bloodshot eyes.
On the surface, “Apostle” reads like any movie focused on a religious cult would. It’s set in a society built on the lies of Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen, “Passengers”), a power-hungry, albeit faithful, leader and his equally greedy partner Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”). The two apparently spread the message that “she” sends and, rather than worshipping God or Malcolm, the people apparently worship an island goddess. This goddess, however, is not just some made-up higher being. About 30 minutes into the movie, the audience learns that she is an actual, physical woman that Malcolm and Quinn had trapped years earlier when they discovered that feeding her blood resulted in successful crops. The issue they face now, though, is that she is apparently poisoning the land, making it impossible for the community to survive and the real reason Thomas has come to the island.
As one would also expect, sexual tension is rampant throughout the movie. Thomas and Prophet Malcolm’s daughter, unsurprisingly, have a few moments but the real emotional turmoil comes from the teenage relationship of Ffion (Kristine Froseth, “Sierra Burgess is a Loser”) and Jeremy (Bill Milner, “X-Men: First Class”) that flowered in spite of, or maybe because of, the natural religious distaste of anything sexual occurring out of wedlock. This subplot was arguably the best part of the movie, and the saddest, as our star-crossed lovers had to deal with the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. Inevitably, the two were murdered by none other than Quinn, Ffion’s insane father. The sad part is you really knew that Jeremy and Ffion loved each other. Even worse, Jeremy and Thomas developed a brotherly relationship. So not only did we have to watch two young lovers die, but we also had to watch Thomas lose one of his only friends on that island. There was really no one else on the island like them and, when they died, I lost any hope I had for any kind of happy ending.
“Apostle” is predictable in its exploration of a cult and, when Netflix tries to combat this with the island goddess twist, the movie becomes just another scary Halloween movie instead of a psychological religious thriller. The one thing that kept nagging at me throughout the whole movie, though, is how similar “Apostle” was to the recent kid’s movie “Smallfoot.” Both were forays into societies built on propaganda and their subsequent demise, yet one had catchy songs and didn’t give me nightmares. “Apostle” also had a very similar premise to Disney’s “Moana” in that both islands are being poisoned by an angered goddess who just wants her life back. “Apostle,” then, is simply a creepier, more British, and less entertaining version of two very good kid’s movies.