Apostle stars Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens as a Boxer Rebellion vet who travels to a small island controlled by a religious cult to bring back his kidnapped sister, in a film from the Gareth Evans, director of The Raid films. It’d be hard to write a synopsis I’d be more onboard with than that, and Apostle gets by on premise alone for a while. Its opening shot, a tracking angle of an Edwardian era coal train rounding a marshy bend as the engine chugs and black smoke leaks from the edge of the frame, is a thing of rare beauty.
Evans (not to be confused with Gareth *Edwards* of Godzilla and Rogue One) seems to be attempting a kind of Wicker Man-influenced “folk horror” here (his words), centered around Michael Sheen as a charismatic Edwardian Jim Jones character living on a misty isolated isle. Again, that all sounds fantastic, and looks it too, though the film eventually attempts one too many genres. Did we really need a three-way power struggle for cult leadership, and two supernatural creatures roaming the island? It’s a lot.
Any kind of metaphorical value eventually gets mangled in Apostle‘s genre stew, much like its characters’ hands, feet, heads… it must be said, Apostle is insanely gory. It seems to attempt both schlocky fun gore and disturbingly realistic gore, which feels like an uneasy mix. Whatever line there is between fun, cathartic gore and enervating, off-putting, borderline mean-spirited gore, Apostle crosses it, at least for me. Not exactly a fun time by the end, and it was hard to divine a higher purpose for it (something about religion, I guess?).
Hell of a premise, cast, and setting though. And points for boldness.