TV review: Apostle mines decades of English genre cinema

Dan Stevens and Michael Sheen are nicely matched in Gareth Evans's bloody good Netflix movie

APOSTLE (Gareth Evans). 129 minutes. Streaming on Netflix Friday (October 12). Rating: NNNN

Fans of Gareth Evans will be surprised to learn that his new film, Apostle, is a world away from The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2. Quite literally, in fact: rather than present-day Jakarta, this movie is set on a remote island somewhere off the coast of England, maybe a century ago.

Perhaps even more surprising is the revelation that Apostle is not an action movie. It’s a radical departure for Evans, who eschews the non-stop, adrenalized spectacle of his earlier work for a slower boil. It’s just as visceral and just as intense – maybe more so, because the easier pacing lets him develop his characters beyond one-dimensional goodies and baddies – but there’s something deeper and creepier underneath it all, pulling us through the story with a compelling dread.

Dan Stevens, of Downton Abbey and FX’s Legion, brings his wiry intensity to the role of Thomas Richardson, a fallen aristocrat who makes his way to the colony of Erisden to rescue his sister from a religious cult, and finds himself in the midst of something far worse than a handful of fanatics.

Their leader, wild-eyed prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), speaks of an agrarian utopia, which clearly hasn’t come to pass. And his beatific messaging doesn’t quite line up with his authoritarian ways, enforced by his brutal lieutenants. Malcolm’s daughter (Sing Street’s Lucy Boynton) seems to know things have gone profoundly wrong in Erisden, and the deeper Thomas digs into the community’s workings, the darker Apostle gets.

It’s a creepy, messy ride, and Stevens and Sheen are nicely matched as damaged men whose single-minded focus on their respective missions makes them far more alike than they know. And as Thomas and Malcolm move closer to their ultimate reckoning, Evans remixes decades of English genre cinema to his own purposes, gambling that the viewer will recognize what he’s doing.

And if they don’t, well, there’s still plenty of blood to shed. He’s the guy who made the Raid movies, after all.

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