Welsh director Gareth Evans made a big name for himself when he moved to Indonesia to direct The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2. Starring Iko Uwais among other native actors, these martial arts films both opened to critical acclaim (except for Ebert, who panned the first film describing it as “a visualized video game that spares the audience the inconvenience of playing it”) and have gained a cult following. Now– he makes his first attempt into Victorian horror with Netflix original Apostle, which influence The Wicker Man, The Witch, Silence, and The Village. It’s just as unnerving as one would expect.
In the 1900s, ex-priest Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) travels to Erisden, a remote island off the Welsh coast, to save his sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys) from an evil religious cult, led by the prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen). During his investigation, he learns about the island’s dark secrets from its residents, including Malcolm’s daughter Andrea (Lucy Boynton, Sing Street). Thomas must rescue his daughter before Malcolm puts him under his wing.
What fascinates me about this movie is the complex nature of the island and its residents. It questions the existence of God and whether He is poisoning the minds of its followers. In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes, Thomas discussed about a painful memory of getting a cross burnt into his back. “The promise of the divine is but an illusion,” he says. “Nothing in the world is pure. God is pain. God is suffering. God is betrayal.” Stevens’ performance as the charismatic Thomas with a violent side is one to cherish.
Evans gives his movie enough time to develop its characters; giving them a sense of dread. Sheen’s Malcolm will stop at nothing to execute his people who disrespect his religion, especially if someone fails to memorize his verses. They are punished by grisly torture devices. Those with a strong stomach will be on the edge of their seat during the brutal second act, accompanied by a suspenseful score by Fajar Yusekemal and Aria Prayogi. Matt Flannery’s cinematography captures the beauty and insanity of the island to perfection.
Apostle might be too complex at times, but it still manages to shock and captivate its viewers. While not for the faint-of-heart, this is a refreshing return to the English-language for Evans. It might be fair to watch it more than once.