On October 12, Netflix continued its efforts at producing its own original horror content. To date, it feels like they have more misses in 2018 (The Cloverfield Paradox, Malevolent) than hits (The Ritual). But their latest effort, Apostle, looks to have a few strong selling points. Gareth Evans (The Raid) is behind the camera, and Dan Stevens (Legion, The Guest) stars in the leading role. In addition, Apostle is a period piece and example of folk horror. The trailer conjures up memories of The Wicker Man, which may be good or bad for Apostle.
In 1905, former missionary Thomas Richardson travels to a small Welsh island to rescue his sister from a cult. On his arrival, Richard meets the Prophet Malcolm Howe who claims to control the island’s deity. According to Howe, he fled to the island with his associates, Quinn and Robert, to avoid persecution for their beliefs. They discovered a goddess who blessed the island with rich harvests. Now they claim to control her. However, their harvests have recently become spoiled and the livestock are ill. Richardson is caught amongst rapidly escalating tensions as Howe and his followers are forced to consider blood sacrifices to restore their prosperity.
Apostle Evokes Positive Comparisons to The Wicker Man
Folk horror is a horror subgenre revolving around pagan rituals and ancient deities. Arguably, The Wicker Man is the most famous illustration of the subgenre. Any film remotely resembling folk hero will inevitably draw comparisons with the 1970’s British horror classic.
Apostle emphasizes the steady development of unsettling atmosphere. Evans sets aside jolts and jumps in favour of mood.
To his credit, Evans doesn’t avoid the comparison. Much of Apostle follows a similar narrative path to The Wicker Man. From its Welsh island setting to Richardson’s confrontation with a bizarre Pagan sect, Apostle cribs the best elements of folk horror. Most importantly, Apostle emphasizes the steady development of unsettling atmosphere. Evans sets aside jolts and jumps in favour of mood. Evans also smartly establishes an overall threat, which serves to make the slower pace more effective. With conflicts and even a vague sense of a looming threat set up early, the slow-burn is allowed to take its time.
A Baptism of Gore and Viscera
Apostle may take its time, but when the more traditional horror elements appear, Evans does not hold back. You get a few early hints at where things are going. In one scene, Richardson spies a family drawing their own blood into a jar as tribute to the island’s deity. Later, Richardson finds himself digging through a tunnel of gore. But once a derelict follower is subjected to a ‘purifying’ ritual, Evans drops the viewer into a perverse rabbit hole of carnage. Let’s just say one character is credited as ‘The Grinder’ and he operates a torture rack that serves as a man-sized ‘meat grinder’. Evans capably films this violence and ensures each moment feels shocking.
Apostle Doesn’t Hit All of the Emotional Buttons
If Apostle comes up a little short, it’s in part due to its excessive length. The movie clocks in at just over two hours. In spite of its rich narrative, Apostle didn’t need to be this long. A little more editing wouldn’t have impacted the movie’s atmosphere or tension in the least. In addition, Apostle’s screenplay saddles Dan Stevens with an underwritten role. Of course, Stevens delivers a brilliantly brooding performance. Despite all this brooding, Apostle never establishes the emotional connection between brother and sister. We know there is a relationship because we’re told there is one, but you never feel it. As a result, Apostle’s ending doesn’t have quite the impact it perhaps intended.
…Apostle is a movie that will linger with you long after it’s over.
Nonetheless, Apostle is a movie that will linger with you long after it’s over. It’s a movie that lends itself to numerous interpretations. The idea of individuals exploiting belief and an actual deity to exert control over devout followers will draw some obvious real-world parallels. The fact that it focuses on three men who imprison a female deity thereby corrupting their physical world should interest environmental and feminist theorists. Richardson’s role as a missionary who has lost his faith only to be drawn under the influence of another deity is rich with subtext.
Despite Flaws Apostle Makes You a Believer
Does Apostle reach the heights of folk horror classic, The Wicker Man? Ultimately, time will be the test of its place in history. Still Evans’ folk horror story probably lacks the emotional punch to raise it to classic status. It’s a movie that would have benefited from some more editing and a bit more emphasis on its characters. But too much works so well in Apostle. There’s such a rich subtext to mine here. For those viewers simply wanting a creepy viewing experience, Apostle is a chilling effort that’s likely to make you a believer.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A-