Gareth Evans, best known for his two Indonesian martial arts extravaganza’s, The Raid and The Raid 2, has come home. The Welsh director, within the space of 2 explosive films, secured his name in the 21st century action hall of fame so the switch to Brit-centric period horror is a daring but welcome one. Evans’ Safe Haven segment in V/H/S 2 teased an eye for the occult back in 2013 and it finally feels like we’re seeing the fruition of that passion. Though Apostle doesn’t have the breakneck pace of his other projects it’s a bold deviation and one which flaunts what Evans has to offer outside martial arts thrillers.
Apostle’s essentially a big budget Folk horror film, so it naturally rejects the creepy mockumentary style of many a low-budget Folk classic. However, Evans’ talent for action and grit finds a comfortable new ground in the genre. The few up-close-and-personal moments, and the film in general, sport a dynamic style rarely seen in Folk. Fights are few and far between, but grizzly and unforgiving. The bloodletting is as evocative as you’d expect (The Raid films hardly shied away from gore) and though Evans drags this Folk experience to a down-and-dirty place, it never feels like he’s just shifted his grizzly action tastes from one side of the Pacific to the other. Apostle feels like a very British film shot with fresh energy.
Apostle is a misty rain-soaked film filled with epic landscapes. Lush green fields, tempestuous ocean fronts: its testament not just to Evans but his long-term cinematographer Matt Flannery who is just as capable in the grassy period environs of the UK as he is in the sweaty contemporary city-scapes of Indonesia. Aside from being well put together technically, Evans’ cast is a watchable ensemble. The Guest’s Dan Stevens does well as the newbie-on-the-island but finds it tough holding his own against the charismatic likes of his co-stars Michael Sheen (Good Omens), Paul Higgins (Couple in a Hole), and Mark Lewis Jones (Star Wars: The Last Jedi). That particular trifecta is a tough one to top, though. Higgins and Lewis are built for this kind of small paranoid power-play, both trapped in a desperate battle of the wills. Michael Sheen leaves his usual theatricality at the door for a straight, and surprisingly endearing, portrayal of a well-meaning prophet bogged down in desperation.
Apostle goes places you won’t expect and pulls some superbly grotesque chills which could be left-field for some. The slow inductment of supernatural elements is terrifying but it builds to a finale some could find too visually fantastic in comparison to the rest of the film. Whilst it doesn’t nail the homegrown, low-budget, or backwoods roots of folk horror, it’s a perfect crossroads between classic folk elements, 21st century shock, and the slowly remerging “environmental” horror sub-genre. Or eco-horror as it should probably be known.
Evans turns out to be the perfect person to refresh the Brit-horror scene and help inject further life into a genre partially resurrected by Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England, amongst other recent hits. If the film belonged on a shelf, it would be somewhere alongside The Wicker Man and The Witch, with a more mainstream edge. Let’s hope Evans enjoyed making horror enough to unleash another terror trip on us.
Dir. Gareth Evans
Stars. Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen, Lucy Boynton, Paul Higgins, Kristine Froseth, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Milner