Apostle, the first feature from director Gareth Evans since his pair of action flicks descended into instant underground infamy, is the rarest of delights: a horror film that begins as one thing and ends up mutating into another.
exciting to watch and difficult to write, similar to movies like the box and the more recent annihilation, which goes beyond shocking its audience with mere twists, but instead shakes its own constructed reality off its axis. a complete change occurs not only in tone, with suspense simmering into seething madness, but also in narrative mode, as the established set of unspoken rules that govern the universe is violently altered. As soon as the viewer believes he has control over the kind of horror story that awaits him, Evans proves that in the chaotic universe contained within his camera, anything can happen. and almost everything does; Evans’ maximalist “more is more” ethic builds up in one grand puppet show after another, building to a hallucinatory, operatic climax that leaves behind our petty reason for metaphysical nirvana. polarizing yet undeniably riveting, the bait-and-switch horror flick lures its viewer into a terrified false sense of security before launching into an anything-goes frenzy, and evans’ latest is an excellent specimen.
for the first hour, he’d like you to believe you’ve walked into a particularly reverent wicker man homage, and makes the legwork of laying this trap a distraction in itself. At the dawn of the 20th century, a spendthrift named Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) wakes up from an opium stupor long enough to accept an assignment from the upper-class family that finally found a purpose for his black sheep. He must set a course for the lush, far-flung island where his sister Andrea De Him (Lucy Boynton) has been captured by the mad prophet Malcolm (a boastful Michael Sheen) and his loyal followers. In relation to even his expectations of an isolated sect of fans, Thomas immediately senses that something is wrong. Malcolm’s brood follows religious convictions, but Thomas can’t figure out what they really worship. naturally, his notions of the sacred and the profane are mixed in the blood.
Evans initially adheres to expectations, both of his gender and of himself as a stylist. this vein of period barbarism calls for appropriately baroque torture, and he doesn’t play stingy with the grotesque. (broken skulls, snapped spines, and skinned fingers, whoops!) stretching racks, crude forceps, and drills of all shapes and sizes push the gloriously free pieces so they continue to top themselves, and by the looks of it, the netflix bean. counters spared no expense on corn syrup. evans works with gore the way pollock worked with oil paints, smearing layer after layer until frantic messiness emerges as the focal point. he maintains that manic tone in the shots of him, favoring the whipping pans and shaky manual labor that turned raiding movies into a sedentary cardio workout. Although the setting and premise don’t allow for as much close combat, Evans can’t resist sneaking in a beatdown or two, nimbly handled by Stevens as he continues to demonstrate and re-prove his potential as an action. hero. In a just world, James Bond’s tuxedo would wait.
He takes a winding path through a subplot involving a forbidden romance between the villagers to get there, but when Evans hits the switch to utter insanity, he lavishes the faithful patient with exquisite punishments. he goes for it and then he goes for it, and only a director in the latter camp would dare attempt the unholy fusion of the back half of the bdsm, goth, and blood-bucket aesthetic. he indulges in all artistic whims, no matter how outlandish, a risky strategy that only works when a director has technical skill and clarity of vision. Evans has the first in spades, working aerial and low-angle shots for all they’re worth, missing only the second. he begins to lose the plot as supernatural elements come into play, and yet any resulting confusion dovetails nicely with the final act’s regression to primal savagery.
Anyone who isn’t put off by the bodily mutilations and hefty runtime of last year’s wellness cure, anyone who sees unbridled ambition as a virtue even when it goes a little wrong, anyone in the habit of order their sandwiches “with everything on”. it” — they will be the ones to appreciate the savage abandon with which Evans pulls out all the stops. this is the cinema of “it is never enough”, of not saying “when”, of “it is not too much”. while a beholder requires a high threshold for the strange to remain with him until the last glimpse of divine ecstasy, the remaining devoted disciples will not go unrewarded. This is Evans’ true act of transfiguration: turning one kind of “cult movie” into another.
apostle is available on netflix october 12