Director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones, Lucy Boynton
Running time: 129 minutes
Early 20th century. A troubled young man (Stevens) travels to a remote Welsh island in search of his sister, Jennifer (Elen Rhys), who has been kidnapped by the isolated community that resides there.
With just so many ‘Netflix Original’ movies being churned out on the platform these days, half the battle – aside from navigating those oddly specific categories – is knowing which ones to actually watch.
Luckily for us, Welsh director Gareth Evans’ new film, Apostle, lends itself to a pretty straightforward process of elimination. If you’re after a chilling, suggestive, deeply allegorical period thriller, then you might have more luck with Killer Klowns from Outer Space. If, however, you’re looking for a gory, grisly, B-movie style horror with generous helpings of the red stuff, then Apostle might just be the ticket.
With a set-up that has less than subtle nods to Robin Hardy’s 1973 classic The Wicker Man, Stevens’ Thomas Richardson takes up the Edward Woodward mantle of mainland inhabitant who infiltrates a mysterious island cult – led by charismatic prophet Malcolm (Sheen) – in search of a young girl. But, whereas Woodward’s Sgt. Howie was an up-tight, righteous man of the law, Richardson carries with him some pretty hefty psychological baggage from a previous life. Some neat parallels are therefore quickly thrown up between Richardson’s voyage of discovery, and the audience’s exploration into the psyche of a man who, as one character concludes early on, “has seen things.”
To reveal any more of the narrative details here would be to ruin it for intrigued first-time viewers. Instead, in a broad a summarisation as possible, this is a film that begins as an enigmatic, slow-burning odyssey of redemption anchored by some dark, unsettling undertones that soon does a full genre one-eighty to become a muddle of malevolent mayhem in which we jump violently from one blood-splattered set-piece to the next.
About as subtle as 2012’s The Raid – Evans most famous work to date – Apostle attempts a tricky concoction that looks to combine elements of the supernatural with body horror. The strength of the former stems from a character-driven focus on the psychological. The latter comes largely from a fear of external forces upon the body. In trying to blend the two together, however, Evans offers up a lumpy, bitter-sweet genre mixture that replaces thinly-stuffed character development for scenes of explicit violence that appear to abandon all trace of narrative coherence.
That said, the stellar performances from the film’s cast help hold things together when everything else starts to wobble. Stevens is convincing as a gruff, angry, and troubled loner whose stern, frequent frowns tell as much of a story as the scar-ridden skin he lives in. The ever-dependable Sheen is equally good value as a figurehead torn between being a man of the people and a sinisterly subservient slave to the horrifying higher powers that govern him. Young duo Bill Milner and Kristine Froseth give the tale its emotional threads; however, in the same way the narrative appears to be juggling far too much, the uneven balance of Evans’ central characters mean that a few – namely, Boynton’s Andrea and Jones’ Quinn – end up being little more than one-dimensional bit-players.
Bloody, bonkers, but occasionally entertaining, Apostle is messy in every sense of the word.