Director Gareth Evans became a kind of cult god for making The Raid, the endlessly ambitious, brilliantly choreographed 2011 action movie that was essentially one long fight sequence. His Netflix movie Apostle is a very different beast. There’s very little action, but enormous quantities of tension and dread. Like The Raid it makes you feel trapped, albeit this time on an isolated island, not in a tower block. Those who fear the sight of blood had best leave the room. Possibly the building.
Set in 1905, the film begins with twitchy drifter Thomas (Dan Stevens) receiving a letter from his sister, begging him to come and rescue her from a small Welsh island where she is being held captive for ransom. On arrival he finds an insular, staunchly religious community that worships a female god and lives under the rule of a blood and fury preacher, Malcolm (Michael Sheen). While Thomas is trying to find out what happened to his sister, Malcolm is trying to find the stranger in his flock. When he finds him, he will kill him.
Nods to The Wicker Man, the 1973 horror classic about a policeman looking for a missing girl in an island cult, are clear and clearly deliberate. This, though, is no mere imitation. Evans has given the film an atmosphere and sense of dread all its own. The urgent, stark cinematography by Matt Flannery gives the film an unsettled, angry mood, thick with damp and splats of dark, arterial blood. Violence is frequent and rapid. Anger courses through every frame.
Evans pulls odd, intense performances from his cast, adding to the whole unsettling nightmare. Stevens, playing ostensibly our hero, is still a grim, off-putting man, the sort of wired, potentially violent sort you’d cross a road to avoid. Sheen is asked to go completely over the top as Malcolm and he charges on more than willingly.
Apostle goes to places you could never anticipate in the opening minutes, rampaging ever further into a bizarre Hell. Evans shows once more that he’s a master at making movies that leave his audience exhausted, exhilarated and in need of a long lie down.
- Starring:: Dan Stevens, Michel Sheen, Lucy Boynton