By midlandsmovies, Oct 17 2018 01:19PM
Apostle (2018) Dir. Gareth Evans
This period horror is another “straight-to-Netflix” film from a well-known cinematic director and whilst that term is often thrown around as an insult of sorts, it’s films like Apostle which prove that rule to be seriously flawed.
Written and directed by The Raid 1 & 2 creator Gareth Evans, the film moves away from his international martial arts flicks to a pastoral production with very British sensibilities and influences
Set at the turn of the 20th Century, the film stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty & the Beast, The Guest) as Thomas Richardson who travels to a Welsh island to find his sister who has been kidnapped by a cult. Sneaking onto a boat by swapping his ticket with a very unfortunate fellow he arrives with nothing but his clothes and begins an undercover search for his sibling.
The islanders are led by Prophet Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen), who claims his followers are free but is also currently aiming to quell frustration as the crops of the land fail to grow.
Thomas follows the working routine by day but at night uncovers mysterious goings on involving secret passageways and a clandestine couple in love but Sheen and his fellow “soldiers” suspect their group has been infiltrated. And so they begin a counter search for the conspirator in their midst.
Gareth Evans ditches the urban interiors he is known for and films his new movie in many lush tones. The rolling green clifftops hint at a prosperity that soon fades to the dusty browns and yellows as the reality of death – both the crops and islanders themselves – begins to take hold.
Sheen as a somewhat false antagonist delivers a perfectly unhinged performance of man undone by his own hubris. And Stevens gives a solid turn as the every-man character needed for an audience to discover the truths behind the story’s mysteries along with him.
Whilst avoiding the action of his earlier films, Evans doesn’t scrimp from the visceral visuals however. Bone-crunching sacrifices and bloody stabbings hint at the director’s roots but with his more naturalistic approach, the gore has much more effect coming as it does in intermittent flashes rather than extended battle sequences.
The film’s biggest influence is very much The Wicker Man (the original) although there were times – with their ‘worship’ of the female/feminine and man with what-looked-like-a-bee-hive on his head – where echoes of Nic Cage’s atrocious remake popped into my brain. But aside from these visual similarities, the films couldn’t be further from each other.
An eclectic score with spooky percussion and the scraping screech of a violin string amongst other eerie drones was more than a fine accompaniment to the dark ideas of the movie. And as the narrative twists and turns Evans introduces some mild supernatural elements in the third act to keep things interesting.
With dismembering, torture and a “grinding” rack, Apostle mixes its exploitation roots with far more heady themes of community, Christianity and corrupt power. But Evans has balanced these sometimes disparate influences so well that they gel together without any fuss.
A support cast of Mark Lewis Jones, Paul Higgins, Lucy Boynton and Bill Milner round out roles that at first seem supportive but are then key to unlocking the narrative later on in the tale, and the whole ensemble delivers gripping drama throughout.
As mentioned at the start, Apostle was released in the UK on Netflix. And like Brigsby Bear, I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore and this year’s fantastic sci-fi Annihilation, Apostle is somewhat done a disservice with just a streaming release. Cinematic in style, production and themes, the movie is a dark and disturbing parable that is anchored by great performances. The actors, and Evans, help raise Apostle by infusing the movie with flavour, believability and a thematic depth rarely seen in your standard cult genre movie. A divine statement on spirituality and the supernatural.