Netflix

The latest addition to Netflix’s rapidly expanding original content catalogue sees director Gareth Evans make his latest feature-length outing since the success of his martial arts-infused adrenaline rush The Raid and its 2014 sequel. Having established his reputation for exquisitely choreographed, ultra-intensity action set pieces, Evans delivers a similar feast of violent excess, this time through the medium of folk horror. 

"Apostle offers more than cynical nihilism. Its closing sequence is ambiguous, in part hinting at the cyclical nature of the story but also at redemption."

Apostle is set in 1905 on the remote island of Erisden off the coast of Wales. Thomas Richardson (Downton Abbey alumnus, Dan Stevens) is a former missionary, tasked by his estranged family to travel to the island and attempt the rescue of his beloved sister Jennifer who has been kidnapped by a religious cult, demanding her ransom. With the premise hastily established, Thomas infiltrates the cult, posing as a follower of the self-proclaimed Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen). 

The island’s poisoned soil which has hitherto yielded miraculous harvests has recently ceased to do so and the cult desperately seek to reverse their misfortunes, trying in vain to appease their mysterious goddess. The kidnapping of the Richardson heiress soon emerges as a plot by Malcolm and his associates to keep the community afloat in the face of food shortages and conspiracies by the King to whom they refuse to pay tax. 

As Thomas delves deeper into the dark underbelly of the island, both figuratively and literally, (at one point he wades through an underground tunnel of viscera) the film pivots from what at first appears to be a well-honed Wicker Man homage to become something far more ambitious. 

What emerges is a parable of man’s recourse to violence in search of salvation. Upon discovering the genuine supernatural properties of the island and the powers of its deity, the islanders led by Malcolm see an escape from an increasingly modern world and its accompanying anxieties. They seek to forcefully control the goddess, imprisoning her and attempting to exploit her powers of regeneration through grisly tributes. When such means begin to fail and the crops cease to yield, they descend into further violent anarchy. 


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The films third act thus spirals into a brutal frenzy. Scenes combining skulls and drills, hands and meat grinders and of a general stomach-churning variety are not for the faint-hearted. Such excess at times overstates the point, distracting from the narrative and helps render the film it’s unnecessarily lengthy runtime of a little over two hours. 

Thankfully, however, Apostle offers more than cynical nihilism. Its closing sequence is ambiguous, in part hinting at the cyclical nature of the story but also at redemption. 

Dan Stevens gives a particularly impressive performance as the damaged and at times deranged hero, whilst Mark Lewis Jones’ energetic portrayal of the zealot, Quinn sees him ultimately emerge as the film’s main and certainly most sadistic antagonist. Lucy Boynton also excels in the role of Malcolm’s daughter Andrea, who aids Thomas against her father’s despotism in a film which otherwise gives its women characters little to do.

Apostle is an intriguing film that confounds simple explanations. Having previously asserted his technical credentials, it establishes Evans as a filmmaker of significant ambition and vision. The end product is a rarity; a horror film disdainful of the genre’s more laboured conventions of jump scares and clichés, packed with surprises, resonant frights and genuine originality. 

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