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Horror and action aren’t really that similar outside of their climactic moments. A good action scene can conjure up as much of a thrill as a decent jump scare or horror sequence can. With Apostle Gareth Evans – the director of The Raid series – has proven himself a master at both genres. His story of a bloody pagan cult and the tortured soul sent to redeem himself impresses as much in it’s commitment to visceral intensity as in it’s detailed, absorbing story.
Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) is sent to an offshore island inhabited by a pagan cult to rescue his sister who the cult have abducted. Thomas is an addict and former missionary who lost his faith after his parish was murdered and he tortured during the Boxer Rebellion in Peking, China. Leading the cult is the prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen) who claims he is leading a peaceful, agrarian society that worships a woodland goddess. In reality he, his lieutenants and black-clad guards are desperately trying to rekindle the island’s dying crops and livestock.
Set in 1905 Apostle feels as meticulously detailed as fellow folk horror masthead The Witch. The village Thomas finds himself in is all clapboard housing and mud streets. It all feels real despite the nightmarish goings on that reveal themselves about halfway through. Evans maintains a steadfast commitment to his influences and his style regardless of how brutal and gory they eventually become. Apostle pulls no punches especially in its breathless, torturous second half.
Evans is no stranger to gore and violence as seen in the numerous beatdowns in The Raid films but he is more selective here and it shows. In Apostle less is more which guarantees audience attention. A shattered leg, mangled fingers and several impalings are the least of what Apostle has to offer with the nastiest treatment often metered out on the least deserving. Despite all it’s intensity the film knows when to reassure its viewers.
Darkness is nothing without light and this applies to horror in every sense. Thomas Richardson begins the film a broken man, physically and mentally scarred by his torture and loss of faith. As much as Apostle is about the rescue of a woman it’s also about finding faith in the bleakest places and situations. Near the film’s end a woman says, “God be with you” to Thomas and he responds, “And also with you.” Faith can be lost but it can also be found again as both Thomas and Michael Sheen’s Malcolm find. It’s a serious statement but this is a serious film despite all of its gory trappings.
Apostle will likely suit the vast majority of horror fans. It is a slow burner but once the flames really catch there’s no containing the blaze. Anyone looking for a new Wicker Man or Witchfinder General will find enough folk horror in spades. Gore hounds and those looking for creeping dread and unease rather than jump scares will also be satisfied. Apostle never really lets up and that’s a good thing. We can always use singular horror with a singular vision. 2018 is a banner year for horror.