When Merantau hit festivals almost a decade ago, it was clear that a fresh voice was emerging in the action genre to slap us all in the throat with a bamboo pole. That hunch was verified when The Raid landed a few years after and hit harder than anything else out there at the time. With it, writer/director Gareth Evans cemented his name as a modern action visionary who was eager to continue honing the craft.
Evans has stepped away from crisp, adrenal gland-popping action to make Apostle, a “thriller with horror elements” that sends Dan Stevens off on a mission to rescue his sister from a creepy, cult-inhabited island. “It’s not for the squeamish,” Evans said during a conversation with Nerdist. “But the violence in it in certain places is more inferred than what’s shown, especially in the first part of the film. And then it starts to unravel as the story intensifies.”
To get a better understanding of what it’s all about, let’s check out Netflix’s official synopsis:
“London, 1905. Prodigal son Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) has returned home, only to learn that his sister is being held for ransom by a religious cult. Determined to get her back at any cost, Thomas travels to the idyllic island where the cult lives under the leadership of the charismatic Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen). As Thomas infiltrates the island’s community, he learns that the corruption of mainland society that they claim to reject has infested the cult’s ranks nonetheless – and uncovers a secret far more evil than he could have imagined. Written and directed by Gareth Evans (THE RAID), APOSTLE is a harrowing occult fable where the only thing more horrifying than madness is the sinister reality behind it.”
And do feast your eyes on this exclusive look at the film’s poster:
Evans pointed to British folk horror from the 1960s and 1970s as the main influences for the film—movies like The Devils, The Witchfinder General, and, of course, The Wicker Man. “We wanted to make something that was tonally in the same universe,” he said. “The most interesting thing about horror and thrillers is when there’s something deeper going on in the subtext of the film. [Apostle] is not purely about a guy going to an island to rescue his sister. There’s more going on there. We explore the notion of how man’s political ideals and desire for power can corrupt a religion, can corrupt society, can corrupt morality.”
Even though the thriller genre is untamed territory for Evans, the story catalyst is similar to a lot of his action films—movies where a group of bad people piss off the wrong guy (usually Iko Uwais), who then infiltrates their headquarters and gets fresh out of bubblegum real quick. But we shouldn’t expect that second part from Apostle. “This is not an action movie,” Evans was keen to emphasize. “[Fans] are probably expecting a Ye Olde version of Taken with Dan as the sort of super charismatic fighting lead, like his role in The Guest. What was so interesting to me about this character, and one thing me and Dan worked on in developing the character, is that it’s almost like he thinks he’s in a ’50s detective film, but he’s not Bogart. He doesn’t get to be the cool guy. There’s an undeniable charisma to Dan and what he brings to that role as Thomas, but we wanted to make sure he doesn’t come across as someone who’s completely in control of himself and able to defend himself in any given set or circumstances.”
In other words, Stevens’ character may have a very particular set of skills, but they aren’t Liam Neeson’s. That said, Evans does promise that they really put Stevens “through the ringer on this one.” But if you’re an action fan worried that this is a kind of retirement announcement, don’t fear too much. Evans wants to return to it when he has something new to offer. “Until then, I want to—not to reinvent myself—but to try all the genres of cinema that I love,” Evans said. “I grew up watching lots of different films, lots of different styles and genres from lots of different countries, so Apostle is like a reflection of that eclectic taste I’ve had since childhood that has seen me consume as many horror films, thriller films, action films, and martial arts films. All different genres since I was a little boy watching on VHS tapes.”
Apostle hits Netflix on October 12, 2018.