Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Watching Gareth Evans' Apostle it's difficult to get a sense of what kind of film you're being primed for. Dan Stevens' Thomas Richardson quivers and quakes, cutting the figure of a sweaty, scarred-up pub fighter physically convulsing his way through some deep-seated indignation and the tincture shakes of self-medication. He arrives on a remote Welsh island, home to a heavily overdrawn religious cult, in search of his kidnapped sister. The lush, hungry island seems to exist just out of reach of Britain's authorities, veiled by a churning, stormy sea that defeats unsanctioned approach. Its beaches are littered with rotting wrecks and derelicts, a ready-made resource for the erection of driftwood churches.
From moment one we're waiting for Richardson to unleash himself on the men ransoming his sibling. Evans' biggest successes, The Raid films, concern a righteous, religious man willingly entering a maelstrom to thump his way towards justice. Apostle often seems to promise something similar, smuggling someone violent and capable into the midst of a 70s folk horror. Once ashore Richardson is canny, noting and defeating the subtle steps designed to reveal him. These notes of potential upset are compounded by Stevens' presence. His eyes blare throughout, lending him the slathering energy of a wounded animal. Stevens also moves with the same robotic gait he gave to his genetically engineered infantryman in The Guest, a dead certain murderer programmed to overwhelm. These performance building blocks would seem to tease a methodical, mechanical satisfaction.
A laudanum addiction aside, the snarling Richarson is focused and deliberate, the film assumes his pace, lazily circling around several disparate threads that threaten to converge. Apostle builds to a head, a rational point of conflict or resolution, then abandons these simple opportunities for might to triumph. Writer-director Evans plays against type, revealing a film more interested in situations and set-pieces built around the consumptive terror underpinning primitive, pagan religion. Power shifts dominate the final third as the bloodletting faith battle over their greedy, malfunctioning prize. At this point Mark Lewis Jones' Quinn, a Magwitchian convict who simmers with dark, incestuous desires that eventually tip over into violent egomania, seizes hold of the film, hurtling us deeper and deeper into an all-consuming chaos.