Apostle [Fantastic Fest 2018]

Gareth Evans’ Apostle was, after Halloween, probably the movie I was most looking forward to at Fantastic Fest. Evans first got attention for his Indonesian martial arts movies, Merantau and The Raid, in which he coincidentally debuted an Indonesian martial artist named Iko Uwais, now enjoying his own very well-deserved fame. But it was when Evans wrote and directed V/H/S 2’s standout segment, “Safe Haven” that he got the full attention of horror movie fans.

While his follow-up to “Safe Haven” was the sprawling crime drama/martial arts smorgasbord The Raid 2: Berandal – by no means a disappointment and almost as good as its leaner, more stripped down predecessor – I was still waiting eagerly for more blood-soaked horror. I knew Evans had it in him, it was just a matter of time before it bubbled to the surface. Well, that sainted day has arrived in the form of Apostle, as bloody a piece of period religious horror as ever graced the screen.

The story introduces us to Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), a bitter, drug-addicted drifter in turn-of-the-20th-century England. Richardson is lured back to his homeland when he learns that his beloved sister has been kidnapped by a religious cult living on a remote island, and that they have demanded a ransom for her return. As Richardson infiltrates the island and its village of religious devotees, he must contend with desperate enemies in the Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), his menacing lieutenant Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), and a mysterious goddess known only as “She”.

Evans makes the pivot from martial arts violence to gore-and-tension-soaked horror without batting an eyelash. From the moment Richardson first encounters the cult on the docks, waiting for the boat to a supposed new life on the island, Evans begins slowly ratcheting up the tension, and just never lets up. The island radiates a sense of menace and strangeness just below the surface, manifesting in rotting crops, sickly animals and pale, nervous people who practice grisly rituals to appease their new deity. Everywhere the camera looks, the eye falls on another unsettling detail, and another, and another. 

When the tension finally explodes, it does so in tried-and-true Gareth Evans style: with blood everywhere. He even manages to work in a bit of the brutal hand to hand fighting that features so prominently in his earlier movies – I haven’t seen Dan Stevens kick this kind of ass since The Guest. It’s hard to do the third act of this movie justice without giving anything away – suffice it to say that once the blood starts flowing, things go from Bad to a brief rest stop at Worse before continuing on to their final destination at Awful.

I really, really hope this movie isn’t a fluke, and that Evans continues to be a double-threat in action and horror. He does the best fight sequences I’ve seen in a long time, and marrying that to his horror aesthetic was fantastic here – I can’t wait to see what he uses that potent brew to cook up next. If you  have a taste for supernatural horror mixed with a lot of brawling bloodshed, Apostle is available for streaming on Netflix already.

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