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Apostle

Year: 2018
Production Co: One More One Productions
Studio: Netflix
Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Cast: Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Mark Lewis Jones, Paul Higgins

M Night Shyamalan painted himself into a very specific corner by being the twist guy, one he jostled against to his detriment. I wondered the same thing about Gareth Evans as I watched this film. After burning hot and bright on the festival circuit after one of the purest action movies of recent times in The Raid (and one-upping himself with The Raid 2), this film looks like the work of a director who wants to prove he can do other stuff.

The antiquity drama/supernatural parable genre isn't big, but even if it was this might be the most assured execution of it. Evans has had his department heads in art direction, production design and costuming build a beautiful world, as sumptuous as it is grimy, a classic tale of humanity wanting its civilisation to protect itself against the mud, sweat, blood and cold of nature and barely succeeding.

He can't help but burst out into his old snappy action mode self a couple of times, particularly during the scene where hero Thomas (Dan Stevens) escapes from the fearsome village executioners, but Apostle is much more about mood and grit than movement and choreography.

Stevens is a bit one note – all he can do is a heavy-lidded scowl as the fallen priest who travels to the island setting of a religious cult in the early 1900s. Posing as an inductee, he's actually there trying to find his sister, who the leaders of the community are holding for ransom.

After their belief that the land is sustained by blood sacrifices, it turns out the leaders of the cult, Malcolm (Michael Sheen), Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones) and Frank (Paul Higgins, who I recognised as Jamie, the crossest man in Scotland from In The Loop) are the only ones who know the truth.

I won't reveal it all here except to say that it pivots to something much more supernatural, but among the hidden agendas the three community co-founders hide is that there aren't enough living creatures – including people – on the island to keep the dark entity at its heart happy. Even though they publicly claim Thomas' sister is a spy and parade her through the streets, the reason they're holding her for ransom is for the money to buy more livestock to sacrifice before the whole community collapses.

Thomas has to do his investigations very carefully both under cover of darkness and outside the strictures of a worshipful life of the island, but even though he finds an ally and helper in a local lad, the leadership gets wind of a traitor in their midst and it's not going to be long before the entrails are going to hit the fan.

And they do. You'll never look at a corkscrew the same again after one brutally cruel scene, and the sewer chase – down a muddy, dank hole in an underground tunnel, submerged in what looks like an open sewage drain full of week old offal being chase by a crazy-eyed witch-like figure has to be the squirmiest horror movie set piece in ages.

The story rambles a little bit, but Evans' script keeps it fairly buoyant by never straying too far from another moody scare or brutal bout of fake blood. It has stuff to say about the patriarchal nature of society, how power corrupts and how we use nature as a capitalist commodity if you're looking for themes, but on top of all that it's just a very well staged, lit and designed gothic melodrama with lots of blood.

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