Film review | Apostle

A departure for the Welsh director known for the superlative actioners The Raid 1 and 2, Apostle sees Gareth Evans delve into Wicker Man territory with mixed results

The cost of true strangeness: Dan Stevens in The Apostle
The cost of true strangeness: Dan Stevens in The Apostle

In a world were carefully curated franchise-universes and reboots are the order of the day, a fresh vision is always welcome. The work of Welsh director Gareth Evans is certainly a jolt of some kind – his take on the martial arts film with The Raid (2011) and its sequel (2014) made him a name to watch out for, as he crafted films that may be lacking in narrative heft but whose commitment to the genre was as striking as it was rigorous and committed.

Now, he appears to have switched generic gears almost entirely while offering up a piece of work with an equal amount of intensity and zeal.

A ‘Netflix Original’, Apostle is a dizzying, cruel, blood and strange descent into the darker side of humanity. Set in 1905, it tells the thankless tale of former Christian missionary Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), who is compelled to travel from England to a remote Welsh island by his aristocratic (and now, geriatric) father after his sister, Jennifer (Elen Rhys) is kidnapped by a strange cult who intend to use her to ransom some money from the Richardsons for their cause.

Posing as a convert to the cult, led by Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen), who is aided by his beefier and less forgiving right hand man Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), the already-embittered Thomas discovers that extracting his sister may not be as simple an affair as he had previously imagined, as the cult’s tight-knit community takes the surveillance of its members very seriously… despite holding to principles of freedom from the royal edicts of England as one of their sacrosanct principles.

But Thomas soon lifts the veil on the cult and the true reason for their ‘economic’ problems… and the reality of it turns out to be stranger than he could ever have imagined.

Apostle is a film that’s not for the faint of heart. Though beautifully shot by cinematographer Matt Flannery, the immersion only serves to plunge the viewer into an unforgiving universe where rural violence is the order of the day, and social violence is not too far behind. Standard post-Wicker Man fare in some ways, sure, but certainly an intense – and generically appropriate, it must be said –jolt of horror.

It is also something of a mess. Edited by Evans himself, it feels like something of a half-finished, lumbering beast at times. One almost suspects that it was originally designed as a mini-series (for Netflix itself, perhaps) but that Evans and co. were forced to reverse-engineer it into a feature at the last minute.

Certainly a worthwhile pre-Halloween watch for those eager to embrace the violent kaleidoscope at its centre, but one that could also have used another spit-polish.

The verdict

Thematically rich and narratively audacious, Gareth Evans’ gory and refreshingly strange revenge drama-meets-horror thriller is certainly an intense curiosity. However, what it has in guts it lacks in planning and logic, and no amount of inspired violence or spirited performances are capable of papering over some of its gaping plot holes and rushed editing choices. Those willing to undertake the somewhat arduous trip will however be rewarded with a jolt of strangeness that is lacking from most mainstream feature film outings in this day and age.

The Apostle is currently streaming on Netflix