It’s been a busy few weeks (err, months really) which means I’ve been watching a lot of new films, but I’ve also fallen a bit behind on reviews for several of them. That being said, here are my thoughts on a quartet of movies I’ve recently had the pleasure of watching, including two Netflix originals—Gareth Evans’ Apostle and Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us (which hits the platform this Friday)—as well as Between Worlds from Maria Pulera and Henry Jacobson’s Bloodline, which features Seann William Scott as a serial killer.
Apostle: The last time filmmaker Gareth Evans dipped his toes into the murky waters of horror cinema, the results were the spectacular segment from V/H/S/2, “Safe Haven,” which still remains my favorite short from the entire V/H/S franchise. And for his latest film, Apostle, Evans shows no signs of being rusty with his keen genre storytelling abilities, delivering up an enthralling and brutal descent into madness anchored by a breathless performance from Dan Stevens.
After coming home to his family estate after a long absence, Thomas Richardson (Stevens) finds his father inconsolable after he learns that his sister has been kidnapped by a religious cult living out on a remote island, and it’s up to him to infiltrate their ranks so that he may rescue her and bring her home safely. Once Thomas arrives, he finds the prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen) in charge, an enigmatic leader who rules with a stoic fist, with his followers beholden to his belief system. And the longer Thomas sticks around the remote village, the more he realizes he’s in way over his head. Malcolm’s daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton) begins to see cracks in the façade of her father’s beliefs, and does her best to help out Thomas as he hatches a rescue plan for his sibling, but then Apostle takes some ballsy left turns, and no one—not Thomas, not Malcolm, not even us as the viewers—can possibly expect where Evans will take his story next.
A mash-up of cult and folk horror, with a dash of blunt barbarity and gut-wrenching gore, Evans infuses a number of genre tropes throughout Apostle, making it an experience that's hard to predict just what on Earth will happen next (which is something I personally dig myself). Between the gorgeous cinematography from Matt Flannery and the incredible production design by Tom Pearce, they say the devil is in the details, and Apostle is brimming with so many intricacies, I immediately fell in love.
As our protagonist, Stevens is engaging and likeable as always, and I enjoyed the fact that he wasn’t portraying the typical hero in this, which made his experience relatable and that much more horrifying to witness the further he digs into just what this mysterious cult is all about. Sheen, though, whoo boy, is absolutely astonishing in Apostle and his arc in the film is harrowing, with Malcolm’s cutthroat charisma looming large over every single character, and how things play out for Malcolm in the final act of the film was wonderfully unexpected.
As a whole, I really enjoyed Apostle, even if it would have been served better by being about 20 minutes longer, and I’m so fortunate that I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen, because Evans’ efforts here are absolutely worthy of a cinematic experience.
Movie Score: 4/5
Between Worlds: I have to hand it to writer/director Maria Pulera—as someone who adores films that full-on embrace WTF-ery in their storytelling, Between Worlds delivered the weirdly demented goods and then some. It has some rough edges to it (more on that later), but I must admit that I really enjoyed Between Worlds, as it is easily teeters on the brink of madness at times, never playing it safe with its audacious script and performances, and I’m a big fan of when filmmakers just go for broke, which Pulera very much does with her efforts on Between Worlds.
The story of Between Worlds is centered around Joe (Nicolas Cage), a down-on-his-luck trucker grieving over the loss of his wife and daughter. On one of his stops, he comes across a woman named Julie (Franka Potente), who he sees being choked out, and as he intervenes, he finds out that not everything is as it appears with Julie, whose daughter, Billie (Penelope Mitchell), is in a coma after a horrific traffic accident, and being choked out is Julie’s way of connecting to the spiritual plane where our souls exist. While a romance between Joe and Julie begins to flourish, Billie starts her recovery process, but it quickly becomes apparent that the spirit living inside the young woman isn’t her own, but rather Joe’s deceased wife (Lydia Hearst), which as you can imagine complicates things to the nth degree between everyone.
To say anything more about Between Worlds’ story would give away some of the film’s most twisted turns, but as a whole, as far as supernatural/possession films go, I’ve never experienced anything quite like what Pulera has crafted here. It’s manic at times, frenetic at others, with this raw sensuality pulsating right beneath the surface for most of the film. The climax just goes right for the jugular, and I must admit I appreciate that Pulera doesn’t take the easy way out with her characters and their conflict. Also, Cage, Potente, and Mitchell deliver a trio of striking performances that really add so much to the material, which isn’t a knock to Pulera’s script by any means—it’s just that Between Worlds dares to go into some really offbeat places, and the actors do a lot to ground those moments.
That being said, there is some roughness to the editing in Between Worlds, especially in the latter half of the film, that feels a little disjointed, and there are also some CGI fire effects in the climax that nearly took me completely out of the moment. But overall, I found Between Worlds to be a beautifully bizarre experience that I really admired, and I’m excited to see where Pulera’s career goes from here.
Movie Score: 3/5
The Night Comes For Us: I’ve been a huge fan of everything Timo Tjahjanto has directed to date, but as far as his latest goes, The Night Comes For Us is truly an action-fueled masterpiece that takes breakneck, bone-crunching choreography to the next level, delivering some of the most jaw-dropping sequences we’ve seen in modern cinema since John Wick: Chapter 2. If we’re never going to see a third installment of The Raid, The Night Comes For Us is truly the best possible sequel scenario we can hope for (albeit, this story isn’t tied into that series whatsoever, despite more than a few familiar faces), with Tjahjanto firmly cementing himself as the future of action cinema with his efforts on The Night Comes For Us.
One of those familiar faces is Joe Taslim, who plays Ito in Night, a member of the Triads who decides he’s had enough of the criminal lifestyle and decides to spare the life of a young girl, but kills off his squad mates instead, knowing if word gets out of his betrayal, Ito and everyone he knows and loves is a goner. Enter Arain (Iko Uwais, who also served as the stunt choreographer on this), Ito’s childhood pal and fellow Triad member who is given the unenviable task of taking out the man he’s long considered a brother, and as you can imagine, that ends up complicating things a bit as the action rages on.
After a quick story setup and a brief narrative interlude before the finale, The Night Comes For Us is all about the action, with about 85 percent of the film’s more than two-hour running time doing its very best in delivering up some of the most bona fide batshit fight sequences that consistently one-up every amazing moment that preceded them. It’s unapologetically gory, celebrating every wave of savagery and blood-soaked battle that Ito and his cohorts must face throughout Night. And for those who may worry that the film’s fights might get repetitious, fear not, as Tjahjanto mixes things up continuously with gun fights and knife fights, and even gives his trio of women a chance to show off their skill sets with a hyper-stylized showdown in The Night Comes For Us that nearly steals the whole damn movie.
While its plot might be a bit on the simple side, honestly, who even cares, as Tjahjanto and his incredible cast give us enough character development and understanding of the stakes at hand to keep us invested emotionally in The Night Comes For Us, which only amplifies the effects of the relentlessly hard-hitting action he unleashes on us from start to finish. For those of you looking for a new action masterpiece to fall in love with, The Night Comes For Us hits Netflix this weekend, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Movie Score: 4.5/5
Bloodline: I am a sucker for slasher films, which means that Henry Jacobson’s Bloodline was precisely my jam (that’s what the cool kids are saying these days, right?). Anchored by a performance from Seann William Scott that just FLOORED me, Bloodline is centered on a school psychologist who believes in the importance of familial bonds, particularly those shared between fathers and their kids, and will stop at nothing to make sure the sanctity of paternal roles are kept up to his high standards—which, of course, includes a little torture and murder (we are talking about a slasher movie here, after all).
There will probably be a fair share of comparisons between Bloodline and Dexter, which I completely get, but for me, there were some aspects of this film that reminded me more of films like Maniac (both iterations) and The Stepfather, as Scott’s character, Evan, isn’t nearly as precise and methodical as Michael C. Hall’s titular character from Dexter, and the way he must course correct the deeper he spirals out of control is oddly relatable to anyone who has gotten in over their heads in some way or another. The cinematography and kills are stylized and vicious, with Bloodline’s cool blue-and-green-hued color palette making for the perfect backdrop for the splatters of blood and viscera whenever Scott’s character gets a little slicey and dicey with his victims.
While Bloodline is 100 percent a vehicle to show off just what Scott can do with a role that doesn’t lean into his outright hilarious acting tendencies, and he does completely rule here, the film is also elevated by supporting performances from Dale Dickey and Mariela Garriga, who prove that the ladies are just as lethal in their own ways, and they’re both just as intriguing as well. The finale in Bloodline feels slightly rushed in comparison to everything that comes before it, but overall, this debut feature from Jacobson is undoubtedly a killer time that slasher fans should really enjoy.
Movie Score: 4/5