A visceral and compelling horror-thriller from the director of The Raid.
Apostle was originally reviewed at Fantastic Fest. It is now available exclusively on Netflix.
For his fifth full-length feature, Apostle, Gareth Evans has traded the pulse-pounding action thrills and exceptional martial arts acrobatics of The Raid for full blown folk horror with this grim, nasty and gnarly story about a religious cult in the early 20th century.
The story follows Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), an ex-priest and the long-lost son of a wealthy man who returns home to find that his sister was kidnapped by a cult and is being held for ransom on a remote island. Thomas takes it upon himself to infiltrate the cult and rescue her before the cult’s sinister plans can come to fruition.
Dan Stevens gives a powerhouse performance here as the grizzled, drug addicted Thomas, who goes to hell and back during his time on the island of Erisden. Thomas’s rage at what he is witnessing allows Stevens to channel almost Nicolas Cage-levels of insanity, yet his performance always remains grounded, even as Thomas comes face-to-face with evil, or is being pulled to an iron meat grinder, or swims in a literal pool of s**t and blood.
Michael Sheen plays the self-appointed prophet Malcolm with enough charisma and menace to keep you guessing at his intentions. Sing Street’s Lucy Boynton plays Malcolm’s daughter, and her character may be the only good person in the film, injecting much needed sanity and serving as a moral compass. Mark Lewis Jones steals the show as Quinn, who acts as the cult’s muscle and who gets crazier and scarier by the minute, making for a terrifying villain who never becomes cartoonish.
At 129 minutes, Apostle is a slow-burn that patiently peels away layer after layer of mythology and mystery. Gareth Evans sure knows how to build tension, as we fear that Thomas may get caught at every corner and each new revelation makes things more dangerous for him. Aside from trying to discover where his sister is, the cult’s uncommon daily routines raise other questions for Thomas to have answered. Why are the members of the cult leaving flasks filled with blood outside their doors at night? Where does the hatch on Malcolm’s floor lead? And just what or who is this “She”, the island goddess that the cult worships? The movie effectively builds suspense about all this until the final act explodes in a bonkers and thrilling ride that pulls Apostle away from the thriller genre and fully into folk horror.
While the original version of The Wicker Man is an obvious influence on the film, Evans also draws from recent films like Silence to explore the idea of religion and nature. What if God is real, and we enslaved it? That question is at the core of Apostle, and the answers will both surprise and thrill viewers who want the film to offer a deeper mythology.
There’s very little in the way of martial arts in Apostle so those expecting Raid-levels of melee fights will be disappointed. That being said, when the film does get violent, it doesn’t hold back. Gareth Evans delivers skull-piercing, limb-crushing set-pieces and visceral torture scenes that will make your skin crawl. Cinematographer Matt Flannery perfectly captures the stunning island landscape as well as the horrifying and gory violence of both humans and animals (yes, if animal violence is a deal-breaker, then don’t watch Apostle). The stunning camera and stunt work make you feel the gut-wrenching impact of every punch, cut and impalement.