Movie Review: Apostle

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Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) attempts to rescue his sister from the evil Malcolm (Michael Sheen) in Apostle, Gareth Evans’ first English-language film since 2006. (Source: IMDb)

Welsh director Gareth Evans made a big name for himself when he moved to Indonesia to direct The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2. Starring Iko Uwais among other native actors, these martial arts films both opened to critical acclaim (except for Ebert, who panned the first film describing it as “a visualized video game that spares the audience the inconvenience of playing it”) and have gained a cult following. Now– he makes his first attempt into Victorian horror with Netflix original Apostle, which influence The Wicker Man, The Witch, Silence, and The Village. It’s just as unnerving as one would expect.

In the 1900s, ex-priest Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) travels to Erisden, a remote island off the Welsh coast, to save his sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys) from an evil religious cult, led by the prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen). During his investigation, he learns about the island’s dark secrets from its residents, including Malcolm’s daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton, Sing Street). Thomas must rescue his daughter before Malcolm puts him under his wing.

What fascinates me about this movie is the complex nature of the island and its residents. It questions the existence of God and whether He is poisoning the minds of its followers. In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes, Thomas discussed about a painful memory of getting a cross burnt into his back. “The promise of the divine is but an illusion,” he says. “Nothing in the world is pure. God is pain. God is suffering. God is betrayal.” Stevens’ performance as the charismatic Thomas with a violent side is one to cherish.

Evans gives his movie enough time to develop its characters; giving them a sense of dread. Sheen’s Malcolm will stop at nothing to execute his people who disrespect his religion, especially if someone fails to memorize his verses. They are punished by grisly torture devices. Those with a strong stomach will be on the edge of their seat during the brutal second act, accompanied by a suspenseful score by Fajar Yusekemal and Aria Prayogi. Matt Flannery’s cinematography captures the beauty and insanity of the island to perfection.

Apostle might be too complex at times, but it still manages to shock and captivate its viewers. While not for the faint-of-heart, this is a refreshing return to the English-language for Evans. It might be fair to watch it more than once.

3/4

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2015 Summer Movie Review: Far from the Madding Crowd

Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan) attracts three men in a movie far from becoming a Victorian-themed version of "The Bachelorette"

Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan) attracts three men in a movie that is far from being a Victorian-themed version of “The Bachelorette”

Since its publication in 1874, Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd has become widely-known as his most iconic novel about love. The main character, Bathsheba Everdene (not related to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, as a matter of fact), attracts three men in 19th-century England. With a plot that throws every soap opera out of the water, several film adaptations have brought it to life, including a 1967 version starring Julie Christie and Terence Stamp. For someone who has never read the book, this version directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) will forever be in my memory.

Here, Carey Mulligan (An Education, 2013 version of The Great Gatsby) plays the farm owner Bathsheba, who lives on a farm in Dorset. The movie opens with her [symbolically] riding her horse through the fields as Craig Armstrong’s fabulous score plays in the background. She catches her eye on Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a hard-working sheep farmer with two sheepdogs. When he asks to marry her, Bathsheba refuses not because she hates him. But because she is too independent for him.

She becomes attracted to another man. His name is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a wealthy landowner and the most mature of the three. Bathsheba sends him a valentine as a joke. Their attraction, however, fires up when they perform a duet of “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme” during a dinner party in one of the most beautiful scenes of the movie. Her third bachelor, Sgt. Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), has never seen a woman as beautiful as Bathsheba. He invites her to the woods to show off his sword-fighting skills. But, there’s a problem: Troy is a gambler, and cares more for Fanny Robbin (Juno Temple), a former lover of his. Between these three men, Bathsheba’s pride must come into play when she ends up with one of them.

After collaborating with 2012’s The Hunt, Vinterberg and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen capture the beauty in Far from the Madding Crowd with its use of close-ups and vast widescreen shots of rural England. Most of the scenes are shot outside with natural lighting. The period-correct sets and costumes make it all the more exquisite. Even though everyone did an astounding job, Mulligan’s performance is one for the ages. The best love affair in recent memory!

4/4