Animated films come in all shapes and sizes. Be it big budget CGI animated spectacles like the ones Dreamworks and other studios shell out or small, hand drawn masterpieces like the upcoming GKids release Ernest And Celestine, there is usually one or two releases each year that hit any and every style of animation a fan of the art form could ever want to see. And then there are films like The Apostle.
Truly unlike most animated pictures that arrive on the big screen any given year, this Spanish feature (the first stop motion feature made in Spain) is a bewildering blend of local horror tale and true aesthetic masterwork, itself seemingly ripped out of the pages of either your nightmares or an unfounded fairy tale from the era when those the latter felt decidedly more like the former. A stop motion animated feature, the film tells the story of Ramon, a recently escaped convict who is on the hunt for some rather life-altering loot left in a small village by his partner in his escape. Making his way to the bizarre and hauntingly desolate village known as Santiago de Compostela, he becomes privy to a world filled with twisted religion, spiked milk and unwavering spirits, all while trying to escape the grasp of a local man of the cloth Don Cesareo and a handful of ghosts alike.
Very much in step with much of modern day stop motion animation and, more so, Spanish horror pictures, the film is an absolute must-see. Like a lost film a young, animation-addicted Guillermo del Toro never made, the film is rife with unforgettable images, be it the brilliant puppet work and set design here, or the Gothic sense of dread and atmosphere that is as omnipresent as the character of Don Cesareo seems to be. Dark and brooding, the film plays like a standard ghost story, but with such conviction to its aesthetic that it is given a sense of life and vitality that many animated films only dream of ever achieving. The first film from director Fernando Cortizo, this is an assured and atmosphere-heavy production that owes as much to a director like del Toro as it does the world of Grimm fairy tales. Not your father’s animated film, it’s a bleak picture that will frighten the pants off of animation nerds and horror hounds alike, doing so in such a stayed and mannered way that you’ll find yourself feeling like you’ve left your hand on a stove top that a ghost has slowly been raising in temperature.
The voice cast here is also a revelation. We spend most of our time with Ramon, played wonderfully by Luis Tosar, a great actor whose voice fits this character perfectly. Opposite him are names like Geraldine Chaplin and Xose Manuel Olveira ‘Pico,’ both of whom take on their respective roles with such lively conviction that this truly becomes an awe-inspiring bit of animated horror. Toss in the late Paul Naschy as a corrupt Archbishop, and you have a film that is both fairy tale and political meditation, a film that is comfortable in both of those skins, often times sharing them at the same moment. A story of indecipherable grays, this is a haunting and unflinching tale of true blue horror that will leave most animation fans gasping for air at the sheer beauty of the artistry, and horror hounds gripping their armrests as if they were about to let out the last breath they’ll ever take. A great, classically told ghost story from a cinematic voice to keep the keenest of eyes on.