Del and Mladen review ‘Apostle’

Image courtesy of Severn Screen.

“Apostle” Starring Dan Stevens as Thomas Richardson, Michael Sheen as Malcolm, Richard Elfyn as Charles, Paul Higgins as Frank, Bill Milner as Jeremy, Catrin Aaron as Elaine, Lucy Boynton as Andrea Howe, and others. Directed by Gareth Evans. 2 hours, 10 minutes. Rated TV-MA. Streaming on Netflix.

Plot summary: A man goes undercover to rescue his sister from the clutches of a religious cult that has taken up residence on a secluded island. During his attempt to free his sister he discovers a horrifying secret being kept by cult leaders.

Are there spoilers in this review: Yes. Read at your peril.

Del’s take

“Apostle” is two movies in one.

On the surface it’s a high-tension thriller about a man trying to rescue his sister from the clutches of a religious cult. But it’s also about a uniquely weird and horrifying supernatural secret being kept within the bleak, windswept hills of a deserted island.

I should have saved this review for Halloween because “Apostle” would fit that bill perfectly – as scarefests go it departs from the usual Spooky Season fare. You’ll find no unkillable slashers, shrieking ghosts or giant reptiles here. Instead, it’s a tense period piece from the debut of the previous century with a quietly anarchic feel, more reminiscent of “Midsommer” and “Wicker Man” than “Friday the 13th.”

I’m not familiar with Evans’ work but I am becoming a fan as “Apostle” is the rare movie that undergoes a tectonic shift in pacing and tone at about the halfway point, and somehow it all works. From quietly tense to madness, “Apostle” asserts the power of suggestion can be a dangerous weapon, but what lies behind that power could be even worse.

“Apostle” is also one of those movies where the setting abets the theme. It was shot mostly in Wales along the coastline and embodies the harsh, threadbare and downright mucky quality of life such locales had to offer in the early 20th century. Rocky coastlines flanked by fields of wiry grass giving way to dark, dank forests, operate as a kind of additional character in the story, similar to the way the cold and snow worked in the original “Let the Right One In.”

But it’s what lurks beneath those hills and forests that really drives the story, and while its presence is hinted at in the first half of the film, the second half becomes a quest to bring everything into the rational light of day while defeating the antagonists and acquitting the victims. At this point “Apostle” goes from slow burn to a furious boil of gore, blood, and horror layered upon horror, much like events leading up to the climatic scene in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

All the actors were terrific in this film, but Dan Stevens’ desperate Thomas Richardson stands above the others. Also notable were Lucy Boynton as skeptical Andrea Howe and Bill Milner as the callow Jeremy. If I had to criticize the movie for anything, it would be the relative unlikability of Thomas, who seemed to hover somewhere between devoted rescuer and drug-addicted looney.

Mladen is already crabbing about it not having lots of foul language or sex. There are sex scenes, but I’d describe them as demur. As for the cussing, well, what can I say? This was turn-of-the-century England, not MAGA America.

I’ve watched movies that in one small way or another remind me of parts of “Apostle,” but I think it’s safe to say you’ve never seen anything like it. Evans tells a fascinating and entertaining story, one that’s worth your 2-hour, 10-minute commitment to watch it.

You won’t be disappointed.

Del’s score: B+

Mladen’s take

Speaking of MAGA. When I read Del’s summary of “Apostle,” I assumed the movie was about the Republican Party under Trump. I was mistaken. “Apostle” is tame compared to the back-stabbing, power-hoarding, hyper-erratic, yellow-bellied, proudly racist, and gullible males and females classifying themselves as GOP-ers these days.

Also mistaken is Del’s review of “Apostle.” It’s crappy and just barely more tolerable than torture movies such as “Saw” or “Hostel.” Only smart and beautiful redhead Andrea kept me watching because she bridged the gap between the film’s decent portrayal of cultism and its grotesque, nearly gratuitous descent into body horror starting with the brain drill.

The film’s most interesting character is religious sect prophet Malcolm (portrayed by Micheal Sheen). As the cult’s top religionist, Malcolm balances charisma, desperation, and dislike for needed violence, as he defines it, pretty darn well. His sole goal is keeping his colony functioning by eluding an impending doom even if that means shedding the Almighty for paganism. Now that I think about it, that’s interesting. The libertarian god of Malcolm’s beliefs most share space with the nature witch who control the island’s plant life.

“Apostle” costumes and bleak environment, mostly grays and blacks, suit the plot nicely as Del noted but other elements are askew.

First, there’s no way that turn-of-the-19th century Englanders, not to say self-exiled cultists living on the edge of poverty, had such perfect teeth.

Second, our protagonist Thomas is accidently the scariest person in the film. It wasn’t his opium addiction. It wasn’t that Thomas got a man murdered by doing a ticket switch to get on a guarded boat to the unholy island warren of Erisden. It was the persistent expression on his face, particularly the eyes. He looked evil with eyes always darting never blinking and, I don’t know, glowing preternaturally.

Third, where Del sees a wonderful transition from the film’s first half of seething, albeit, discreet menace and hypocrisy to a father murdering his teenaged daughter with a knife, then her teenaged lover with the hand-powered brain drill, then shooting Malcolm with a sawed-off shotgun, and then threatening sexy Andrea and Thomas’s sister, I see a movie running out of ideas to convey the dangers of cults and the rhetoric that inspires regular folk to dive into the deep end of an empty pool.

And, finally, I have no idea why the beast-man with his reed-wrapped head was needed. Yes, the soiled being, apparently, protected and fed the nature witch with blood and flesh from animals and then humans but from where did he come? Who or what was he? Why did Malcolm trust the beast man to care for the increasingly apathetic, or was it disillusioned, pagan who ran the island’s environment. I believe the beast man was inserted into the movie for on scene alone, the one where he tries to grind Thomas into food pellets and strips for the witch. Yuck and a repulsive yuck at that.

I agree with Del. Y’all probably never saw anything like “Apostle” and you may not want to.

Mladen’s score: A generous C because the first half of the movie isn’t bad.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.

Image courtesy of STX Films.

“Peppermint” Starring Jennifer Garner, John Ortiz, John Gallagher Jr., and others. Directed by Pierre Morel. 101 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.

Mladen’s take

Badass beauty Charlize Theron, a.k.a. Aeon Flux, Imperator Furiosa, Lorraine Broughton, etc., has serious competition. Who? Badass Beauty Jennifer Garner as Riley North in the pretty good Netflix flick “Peppermint.”

“Peppermint” has its weaknesses. Among those are its cliché good-guy/gal-seeks-rightful-revenge plot, a bit of maudlin nostalgia, the not infrequent appearances of the apparition of a murdered daughter, woke commentary on poverty, and the origin of the movie’s title. I’m sure even curmudgeonly Del, who, paradoxically, wants humanity in his movies, will agree with me on that. However, none of the above comes close to diminishing Garner’s exquisite performance as a mother pursuing justice very, very violently and the neat double-cross about two-thirds into the exactly correct runtime for this film.

I urge patience when you start watching this movie. The first third or so of the movie is dedicated to establishing the bad guys, a corrupt justice system, and the power and allure of money. The really good stuff starts with North’s takedown of a drunkard father in a convenience store. Loved it and the moral. It’s here that we get our first glimpse of the glib, witty, and rage-infused North. Garner delivers her lines convincingly. She metes righteousness in correct proportions. The shitty daddy is merely threatened with a 9 mm pistol stuck in his mouth. The drug-dealing gangbangers get the opportunity to meet bullets and shotgun pellets up close and personal. In between, North manages to avenge the slight of coquettish rich lady. The insult was delivered when North’s husband and daughter were still alive. North has a good memory, along with a body and temperament to take and deliver punishment.

Yes, “Peppermint” has its doses of bodies absorbing stunning injuries and the obligatory self-repairs of deep lacerations or punctures. I understand and sympathize with the troupe. I don’t know. Maybe from here on I should just rationalize moviedom abuse of the body and moviedom’s interpretation of how much abuse a body can absorb as the consequence of surging adrenaline. If you’re running with a dozen bullet holes through you or fighting with your guts spilling onto the sidewalk, it’s simply a matter of fact that your body hasn’t yet recognized that it’s dying. Hell, I don’t know why people are making such a fuss about legalizing recreational use of marijuana or other drugs countrywide. Give me synthetic adrenaline, damn it.

So, forget about Garner as “Elektra.” That’s polluted water, caused by the imbecile Trump and his administration of fools, under the bridge. “Peppermint” is Garner’s re-introduction as an action star. And, it works.

I was happy to see John Gallagher Jr. as Detective Stan Carmichael in “Peppermint.” You may remember Gallagher for his excellent portrayal of Emmet in the very good “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Gallagher’s Carmichael is a bit dopey, somewhat a slob, but likeable. He serves nicely as part of the narrative that explains Riley’s metamorphosis, while playing an important role in the story, as well. 

Finally, there’s nothing special about the score for “Peppermint.” I interpret it as techno-poppy and raucous, but it failed to make an impression. Fortunately, neither did the score distract or diminish the film.

“Peppermint” gets a B. Garner gets a strident A. That would’ve been an A+ had she not balked. See the movie and you’ll know what I mean. There’s no way you or Del will disagree.

Del’s take

As of this writing “Peppermint” is “No. 9 in the U.S.,” according to Netflix. I tip my hat to the streaming giant. Americans do love their lists, and a list of who’s watching what on Netflix is sure to fire up page views for the lesser lights among its offerings.

Except it’s not really a “top 10 on Netflix” list. It’s a “top 10 on Netflix that are relevant to you” list, which means it’s pointless as a barometer of popularity. Yup. The algogremlin strikes again.

And here I was thinking “Peppermint” was a top 10 movie in the whole U.S. of A. despite its paltry $53 million box office take and 12 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. Why? Why is a 2-year-old movie suddenly popular on Netflix?

Turns out it isn’t.

I think Mladen has damaged his brain with all the “Ice Spiders” and “Snow Sharks” garbage he watches. On the luminosity scale “Peppermint” ranks somewhere between a searchlight and a miniature Christmas bulb. I lean toward the latter because truth be told, it’s little more than “Death Wish” retold without a trace of charm. No way should this movie be anything more than a time-killer when a body is waiting to be called into the doctor’s office for a hemorrhoidectomy.

Mladen also neglected to summarize the plot, which is this: Riley North sees her hubby and daughter gunned down by drug dealers because hubby (Jeff Hephner) refused to participate in a drug deal. The bad guys are caught, but the corrupt justice system lets them skate. North decides to take matters into her own hands.

Sound familiar?

Garner delivers a kickass performance, and for that I’m grateful. It made the movie for me. I do enjoy watching women like Charlize Theron and Rooney Mara mete justice to those who deserve a swift bust in the chops.

Also, there were some excellent visuals and fight sequences, particular the one in which the roles are reversed and it is the drug dealers’ bodies swinging from a bridge. I’d like to note Garner’s character was not one of those indestructible super-creatures who never gets stabbed, shot or beaten up. She suffers her share of damage, though her recovery time is a lot quicker than mine would be.

But everything else about “Peppermint” you’ve seen before – in my case over and over again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can watch the same movie, or iterations of such, many times as long as they’re well done. In this case the plot relied too heavily on suspension of disbelief and hand-of-God intervention to leave me with a favorable impression.

I referred Mladen to “Peppermint” because I know he likes brain splatter and infrastructure destruction, although I don’t recall seeing either in “Christmas Chronicles 2.” But should you watch “Peppermint”?

My answer would be a qualified “maybe.”

It’s a simple-minded yet decent action movie with a hero who does not dodge all the bullets. But the plot is hackneyed and everything works out a little too adroitly to be taken seriously. I would look at it as a cartoonish rendition of “Skyfall” or “The French Connection.”

Going into “Peppermint” with that attitude will make it a more entertaining film.

Garner’s performance is a solid B+, but overall the movie gets a C from me.

Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.