For all of the gory, gruesome effects wheeled out during 'Apostle', what makes it more affecting and arguably more compelling than most horrors of a similar ilk is the strength of the performances from everyone concerned, and the conviction that each of them give to their roles.
Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens, Mark Lewis Jones and Lucy Boynton give layered, dramatic performances and have the kind of energy and intensity you wouldn't necessarily expect from a movie of this kind. So often is the case that period horrors are grounded in a stateliness and a gothic sensibility that tempers an actor's portrayal. They have to play them buttoned down, repressed and one-note - but instead, here in 'Apostle', they're wild and free in a way that makes it more captivating to watch and energetic in its delivery. It's just a shame that the story and script is executed in such a confusing manner.
Stevens plays a failed missionary who is severely disfigured, both physically and emotionally, by his attempts to spread Christianity to China. Returning to England a broken and defeated man, his sister - played by Welsh actor Elen Rhys - has been kidnapped by a cult on a remote island off the coast of Wales called Erisden and ransomed by the cult's leaders, Michael Sheen and Mark Lewis Jones. Stevens arrives on the island and begins his search, disguising himself as a follower and soon begins to blackmail Bill Milner into helping him. Milner, funnily enough, turned up in the period drama 'The Lodgers' - an example of the kind of stately gothic horror that 'Apostle' is in direct conflict with.
It's never that the movie spirals out of control, but it's the manner in which it lays out its characters that becomes so confusing. We're unsure who to root for, and the story flicks between both Stevens' grimly determined hunter and Sheen's feral idealist who is bound to defend his way of life at any cost. There's so much going on and Evans' script is saying so much, but it becomes such a confusing mixture of allegories and stories that it becomes barely comprehensible in the execution of it. When the true nature of the island is eventually revealed, it's done with so little explanation that it almost becomes inconsequential.
Still, Evans works with such confidence and skill in the visual storytelling that it really does pack a punch. It's visceral, richly designed and textured, and the way in which he moves and places the camera speaks to a real visionary talent that - with a better script and a stronger command of the story - could make something truly special. 'Apostle' rips along in a twitchy, juddering pace that speaks to his action credentials from 'The Raid', as does the brutality and gore. It's just a shame that the story gets so lost in it that it's hard to follow.
As it stands, 'Apostle' is a fascinating, but muddled horror experience and confirms Evans as a gifted, visual storyteller.