Posts Tagged ‘period film’

I saw the trailer for this new Netflix film several weeks ago, and got intrigued. A British horror film taking part in Edwardian England and involving an isolated cult? Where do I sign up? So last night I made some popcorn and logged in to check it out.

Holy shit, I think we have a winner here!

Apostle follows Thomas Richardson, the prodigal son of a wealthy family with a past who comes home when he finds out that his sister has been kidnapped for ransom by a cult living on an isolated island off the coast of Wales. He goes undercover and joins the cult to save his sister, but finds that things on the island are not all that seem. Thus begins a twisted descent into insanity, religious zeal, and blood that will leave no one untouched.

This movie is wonderfully fucked-up. It starts out slow with very few hints of anything off, but over time throws in hints of how messed up things are, mainly strange actions on the part of the characters. As the film goes on, these hints become more obvious and horrific, involving blood, strange sights, and much worse. It creates this very unnerving atmosphere al a The Shining, only by the final third the film can sustain the intensity and somehow keep building on it. Just when you think that this film can’t get any more horrifying, it throws something new–a revelation about the characters, body horror, etc–to throw you for a loop. There were more than a few times I felt myself gripping my computer with white knuckles because of what I was seeing on screen.

The acting is great. I forgot that I was watching people in roles and thought they were the people they were playing for most of the film. And I especially liked how the film mainly relied on practical effects and only used CGI for minor touches. I prefer practical effects to CGI in most instances, and it’s good to see the director, Gareth Evans, seems to share my preferences. And a good thing too, as all the practical effects give this film’s body horror elements a realism that makes it especially disturbing and which would’ve lost their power if CGI or some other trick had been used.

If this film does have an issue, the plot does seem to meander at times. There are numerous subplots that are woven into the film, and while the majority of them do get resolved, a few don’t (what about that oath? Why wasn’t that picked up?). That might work better in a novel, where we can see the characters’ thoughts and that sort of thing can be explained, but in a film it’s a problem. So some people might find the story slow or boring because of the way the plot is set up.

All in all though, Apostle is a terrifying and powerful film and possibly a new classic of the genre that will stay with viewers long after they’ve logged off Netflix. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Apostle a 4.6.  If you’re brave enough, go check it out and begin your spiral into a world of trauma and terror that is rarely put to film.

Also, I wish the director Gareth Evans, who only has one other horror credit on his director’s belt, comes back to the genre soon. If Apostle is anything to judge by, I look forward to seeing what else he can contribute.

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A bit of background before I start this review: in case you didn’t know, or you’ve never read my third list of haunted locations I want to visit, the Winchester Mansion, known today as the Winchester Mystery House, is quite real. It was first started in 1884, but was continually worked on and added onto, around the clock, for nearly forty years. Sarah Winchester, the widow of the owner of the Winchester Rifle Company, believed that the spirits of those killed by her husband’s company’s rifles were after her family and had previously killed her husband and infant daughter. On the advice of a medium, she moved out to California and started building a house that doubled as a maze, meant to confuse the spirits who were after her family. She kept adding onto the house until her death, after which work completely ceased. The house is now a national landmark, and is reputedly haunted to the brim. It is this house, its mistress, and its hauntings that this movie is based on.

Everyone got that? Good.

Winchester follows Jason Clarke as a troubled psychiatrist who is sent by the Winchester Rifle Company to evaluate Mrs. Winchester’s mental state to see if she’s still fit to be a majority shareholder. Mrs. Winchester, played by Helen Mirren, allows the psychiatrist into her home at the same time as a powerful and angry spirit arrives. Together, they must confront this spirit before it kills every member of the Winchester family, and then some.

I went with a friend to see this film. I don’t know what my friend was expecting, but I was hoping, based on the trailer and what the film is based on, that it would be decent at least. At the end, we both agreed it wasn’t that.

Winchester suffers from a number of issues. One of the biggest issues is script. The film’s story is underwhelming, bogged down in exposition and with a villain who, while in concept sounds cool, in execution seems kind of boring. The villain actually reminds me of people’s reactions to Helmut Zemo in Captain America: Civil War. This is a character that’s supposed to be powerful and menacing, but for a lot of audience members (not me, though), the character’s film treatment was not intimidating and lacked menace. For me, Winchester’s villain was like that.

Another issue is the scares. There are a few good jumpscares and creepy imagery, but other than that, the movie isn’t that scary. It tries to build atmosphere, but it doesn’t go as far as it could to build an atmosphere. In other films, we’d see ghost children running in the background, shadows threatening to attack a character before someone walks in and interrupts. Stuff in other films that works very effectively. If we had more of that, the film might actually be a little scary.

I also didn’t care for Jason Clarke’s performance. He’s never been my favorite actor, but this time he was just terrible. Half the time he just mumbled his lines. After the film I just looked at my friend and I was like, “Would it have killed him to speak up?”

But the biggest thing going against the film, at least in my opinion, is the house itself. Or rather, the lack of the house. The actual Winchester Mystery House is a gargantuan structure: four stories, 161 rooms, two bathrooms, seventeen chimneys, two basements, three elevators. Stairs going nowhere, doors that open onto sheer drops, skylights and windows, etc. Even fake bathrooms. An entire maze of a house. But we wouldn’t know it, based on how little we see. A few key hallways and rooms, and some stairs for the arthritic, but barely anything else. If you never saw one set of stairs or a few key exterior shots, you would never know that the house was as huge and confusing as it is. I know the film didn’t have a huge budget, but come on! If you’re going to make a film about a giant maze-house, utilize the maze-house! You could probably make for a more exciting climax if you did that!

Did the film have any good points? Well, Helen Mirren as Sarah Winchester was actually kind of badass. She’s portrayed as this strong woman who works through her grief by battling the supernatural every day, and she doesn’t care what you think of that. It’s pretty cool. That, and the costumes and rooms, what rooms we see, anyway, look true to the time and are absolutely beautiful.

But that’s it. It’s not exactly awful, but it’s not very good either. It’s just below average.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Winchester a 1.5. There’s a lot of potential in the concept, but this film definitely did not live up to it, producing an unremarkable period piece trying to be a good horror film. So if you’re looking to be scared, I suggest skipping this one entirely. It’s all bark, and absolutely no bite.