Thursday 8 January 2015

The Apostate: Call of the Revenant

Director: Andy Dodd
Writer: Andy Dodd
Producers: Andy Dodd, Phoenix Laine
Cast: James Bryhan, Terri Dwyer, Anthony Webster
Country: UK
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: online screener

An apostate is someone who renounces a particular religion or faith. There have been a number of films called The Aspostate including a Dennis Hopper picture from 2000 and a Russian sci-fi feature from 1987 (and an episode of Casualty). A revenant is anyone who returns from the dead (or a long absence). Richard Elfman directed a rather fun vampire picture called Revenant, starring Rod Steiger, Casper Van Dien, Udo Kier and Craig Ferguson, which I saw at Fantasporto in 1998 (although by the time it was released some idiot distributor had retitled it Modern Vampires).

One might assume that a film called The Apostate: Call of the Revenant was some sort of cheesy and/or pretentious religious horror flick - but one would be wrong. This actually turns out to be a powerful, disturbing, thoughtful and thought-provoking study of psychopathic behaviour. It’s not absolutely perfect, but it’s a belter of a film and definitely worth seeking out once it gets a proper release.

At the core of The Apostate are a brace of terrific performances: murder suspect Lance Cooper (James Bryhan: Lead Me to the Dark) and Detective Inspector Holly Andrews (Loose Women chatter Terri Dwyer, formerly of Hollyoaks and a local gal from just up the road in Syston), questioning Cooper in a featureless police station room. The film cuts between this interrogation and the events of four weeks previously when Cooper found himself, suffering memory loss, covered in blood and with a serious wound to one leg, trapped inside a small bathroom. For the first half of the film, we watch Cooper try desperately to escape and, when he finally does, try to make sense of his location and the other dead/dying people he finds there.

It’s a cracking, almost wordless solo performance from Bryhan who convinces utterly as the amnesiac victim of some brutal attacker. And if there are occasions when the viewer puzzles over choices not made – why doesn’t he use the metal pole he finds to help him hobble about? – these are excused by firstly the man’s confused, terrified state and secondly the revelations of the film’s second half.

We also cut to a couple of scenes which predate the incident. In one he searches for, and finds the body of, his young daughter. In the other, he is visited at home by an enigmatic figure with long hair and a broad-brimmed hat who describes himself as a ‘revenant’.

What we find in the second half, after a very nasty incident at about 44 minutes which forces us to rethink all that has gone before, is that Cooper is an unreliable narrator. And this is the film’s strength. Even after the credits roll, we are still unsure how much of what we saw was what actually happened, how much was what Cooper thinks happened, and how much was what Cooper told DI Andrews happened. To say more would be to spoil a film which while certainly not 'enjoyable' in any way, is nevertheless compelling and gripping and ultimately satisfying in its open-endedness.

Actually, if I have one criticism it's that a little more open-endedness would have been beneficient. The film wraps with a series of captions about each of the various characters which, honestly, aren't needed. This isn't Animal House. Let us debate who did what and why. (Also, being ultra-picky, I felt some of the text in these captions wasn't great, nor did I like the font.) That said, there is a final twist that works very well indeed.

And if I have one other criticism, it's back up at the start of the film. Yes, it's adroitly directed and Bryhan's performance is magnificent, but the story takes a lo-o-ong time to get going. What is covered in 40 minutes would work better in 30, making the shock the end of act one instead of the mid-point of act two.

But these are not deal-breakers, not major problems. They don't detract from the impact of the film. Bear in mind that I don't like violent horror movies so it's rare that I would watch something like this (I was kind of suckered in by the title...). To my surprise The Apostate proved to be a well-crafted film that more than repaid the time I spent watching, and indeed the time afterwards as I was left mulling over in my head precisely what had happened. That's the sort of effect that a good horror movie should create in its audience.

Also in the cast are Carol Cummings (who was in The Wrong Floor with me!), Bob Sanderson, Hannah Smart, Ella Childs (as the daughter), Anthony Webster (who was a beggar in The Hollow Crown) as the Revenant, and director-writer-DP-editor Andy Dodd. Alison McCabe (The Hunt for Gollum, Tales of the Supernatural) provided the excellent make-up.

The Apostate: Call of the Revenant had a premiere screening at the Telford Odeon in September 2014 but as of writing remains unreleased.

MJS rating: B+

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