James Cole Clay // Film Critic
No matter how many great films director Gareth Evans makes, he will always be known for THE RAID movies. These Indonesian martial arts films revolutionized the genre and even crossed over outside of the niche markets. He has generated a mythic following of fans pining away at the day they can put their eyeballs on his next piece of work.
His latest, APOSTLE, comes out of the never-ending firehose of content known as Netflix, which can be either a good or a very bad thing. However, Netflix has a high batting average with their films they showcase at festivals. (Fantastic Fest is no exception.) And I’m happy to report APOSTLE does not disappoint. It’s a director completely pivoting his filmmaking style by creating a nasty piece of cinema that’s fueled by horror and powered by adrenaline. Next to THE WITCH and HEREDITARY, this is one of the darkest films in years.
Taking place in 1905, the film begins with a swooping camera shot gliding towards a train-track that takes us to meet our hero, an apostle named Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), he’s in search of his sister Jennifer (Elen Rhys) and he’s lost his faith in god.
He travels to a barren island where a legion (no pun intended) of religious zealots are holding his sister for ransom. But what they don’t know is they will regret the day Thomas Richardson made landfall in search of their secrets. The island is led by three men Charles (Richard Elfyn), Quinn (an outrageous Mark Lewis Jones) and Prophet Quinn (Michael Sheen), who speaks of “The Goddess” with the upmost respect, this is who they worship. To explain any more about the more fantastical elements can get spoil-ery quickly.
Their crops have been sour for years and the livestock can’t reproduce. In one scene, we see Quinn tossing an infected newborn calf into a bucket full of water. It’s disturbing stuff at play and Evans gives us so many delicious moments that will be etched in your memory. It’s as if he delights in the bleakness in his work, which oddly makes it more digestible.
Thomas begins to make his way through town completely wasted on laudanum, looking for his own path to redemption, but it has nothing to do with seeking forgiveness. He’s a clever guy who plays with the townsfolk searching for any bit of information. Adding the drug-fueled aspect to Thomas’ character gives Stevens a wonderful playground to act crazed and a bit goofy in the process. These little touches soften the blows a bit when the story goes to more wretched places.
Evans’ film is bursting with style and it has very little to do with martial arts. He infuses camera angles that I didn’t even know were possible. The twists and turns are constantly surprising; they work as little visual surprises to set a twisted mood.
This film is a major step forward for Evans, who clearly is trying to distinguish himself as a filmmaker who can change genres at will. APOSTLE works as a director’s showcase, in terms of style, narrative and world building. This is film that doesn’t skimp on the details and rewards the more relaxed viewer with a manic jolt of action and a finale of biblical proportions.
It’s odd to call APOSTLE a “fun film,” but it gives you what you need when you least expect it. Evan’s script seasons the film with prose about the dangers of a puritanical society. It’s a terrifying series of scenes when you witness religious ideals become radicalized. Evans is a filmmaker who clearly is looking for a challenge, and even though this isn’t the hard hitting epic that fans may have been seeking out, there are enough visuals and the rich performances to makes this a must-see. Just promise when this premieres on Netflix, you’ll resist the urge to grab your phone.
APOSTLE releases on Netflix on Oct. 12.