Set in the early 20th century, opium addict Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) sets off for a faraway island in search of his sister Andrea (Lucy Boynton), who has been taken hostage by the island’s inhabitants; a prophet and his fanatic followers. The opening credits are violent and unnerving. Although graphically simple, the synchronisation of the image and crescendo of the sound is very effective and establishes the mania of the film. Whether it succeeds in sustaining this is unconvincing.
Richardson’s character seesaws between a bumbling Hugh Grant and a deranged, malcontent monster. With Stevens’ portrayal of the latter being somewhat forced, the fluctuations aren’t believable and this damages a central theme; the intermingling of the sacred and profane. Michael Sheen, however, provides an energetic performance as cult leader, although his modern haircut is a little distracting from the 20th century setting.
All the central characters are compromised by a lack of backstory and this leaves the audience lacking the depth of understanding that the narrative demands. The screenplay is flat and lazy, often using clichés and metaphors that don’t carry any weight.
One aspect the film does not lack is gore. Gareth Evans (director) continues to fuel his lust for bloodshed, death and general mayhem from The Raid films to make for another gruesome cinematic experience.
The film is saturated with obscenities of bitten off fingers, drilled craniums, speared bodies and many, many slit throats. The violence is viewed both as purification and as punishment on the island, and is one of many profound hypocrisies Evans is trying to expose. This regression into savagery is made tangible by the cinematography which is the support on which this film barely survives. The shaky camerawork and extensive use of aerial and low angle shots provides a visceral seasickness, which occasionally subsides in sublime shots of the Welsh countryside.
All in all, a disappointing experience. It’s a shame the film’s narrative does not demonstrate the same technical skill and clarity of vision as the shooting and post-production do.
Image Credit: Movie DB.