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Film / Apostle

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"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
Thomas Richardson, quoting Matthew 7:15, KJV

Apostle is a 2018 British-American period Folk Horror film written and directed by Gareth Evans (director of The Raid and its sequel), distributed by Netflix, and starring Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Mark Lewis Jones, Bill Milner, Kristine Froseth and Michael Sheen. The film has received praise for its cinematography, visuals, and performances, as well as its blending of horror genre.

In 1905, Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) travels to the remote Welsh island community of Erisden to rescue his beloved sister, Jennifer, after she is kidnapped by a mysterious cult demanding a ransom for her return. Though this is by no means a simple task, Thomas quickly discovers that there's more happening on the island than anyone realizes.

Not to be confused with the 1997 film The Apostle starring Robert Duvall.

This is a slow-burn horror movie with a fair few twists, so beware unmarked spoilers.

Apostle contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Aerith and Bob: Ffion and Jeremy, the young couple.
  • All There in the Manual: The Grinder is never named as such, except in the credits.
  • Anti-Villain: Malcolm genuinely wants to create a utopia on the island.
  • Anyone Can Die: Few named characters make it to the end.
  • The Anticipator: The Goddess tells Thomas that she has been awaiting the arrival of someone who will release her from her pain (and, as the film's ending implies, replace her as the island's guardian).
  • Arcadia: Erisden was at least "advertised" as the Utopian version before the film begins, but has since shifted to a Town with a Dark Secret and its own Men in Black.
  • Attack Hello: How Thomas tries to kill Quinn.
  • Authority in Name Only: Although Malcolm is Erisden's nominal leader, he seems to have little actual authority, in contrast to the more commanding Quinn.
  • Ax-Crazy: Quinn, by the end, if not from the start.
  • Baby Factory: At the height of his insanity, Quinn threatens to turn Jennifer and Andrea into this trope.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Thomas sports one before setting off on his journey.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Malcolm's original vision of Erisden was an egalitarian society without violence, economic exploitation or an oppressive government. By the time Thomas arrives there, it has become an authoritarian theocracy with its own Secret Police that ruthlessly silences any dissenters, and can only sustain itself by using the populace as Human Resources.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Malcolm stubbornly insists that the failure of the crops and the dying/stillborn livestock are only temporary setbacks and everything will go back to normal in time, despite all evidence to the contrary. Frank eventually has enough and tells Malcolm that he's lying to himself.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Thomas is completely devoted to his sister Jennifer, and will do anything to save her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Thomas mercy-kills the Goddess and rescues Jennifer and Andrea from Quinn, but he is mortally wounded in the process, saying a tearful farewell to his sister as she escapes with the remaining villagers. As Thomas lies dying, fresh grass grows from his blood and infuses with his body, implying that he has inherited the Goddess's role as guardian of Erisden.
  • The Brute: The Grinder, a towering, seemingly mute and masked man who is tasked with grinding up corpses.
  • Cassandra Truth: Thanks to some quick thinking on Thomas's part, Frank and his men don't believe they have the wrong guy until Malcolm spells it out for them.
  • Collapsing Lair: Once the barn is lit on fire, things escalate quickly.
  • The Conspiracy: The original settlers of the town, convicts washed ashore, met an old woman who was actually a supernatural being that influences all natural life on the island, learned she drew some of her power from blood sacrifice, and could be trapped by using her innate desire for blood and flesh. They have since used her to provide bountiful harvests for their village, killing anyone sent to spy on them for the government, or who finds the obeisance required by the cult unpalatable enough to try and leave.
  • Conspiracy Redemption: By the end of the film, the cult is broken up, Quinn gets what he deserves, Frank dies trying to end the madness, and Malcolm, the one who truly believed in their cause, gets to witness the rebirth of the island and its guardian.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: During the flashback to Thomas's time as a missionary.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Jeremy is executed by a slow grinding drill to the head.
    • Quinn has his belly slowly cut open while being strangled with a chain at the same time.
  • Damsel in Distress: Jennifer, kidnapped for ransom so the cult could purchase desperately needed supplies from the mainland.
  • Death Seeker: After years of imprisonment, the "goddess" has become a withered shell of her former self and begs Thomas to release her.
  • Eldritch Location: The island's soil is apparently toxic enough that nothing should be growing there, and recently the local livestock have begun producing stillborn and/or mutated offspring.
  • Environmental Symbolism: For much of the film, the island is desaturated and bleak in appearance, with noticeable increases of color in important places and times.
  • Fingore: Thomas loses several digits off his hand during the climax.
  • Good is Not Nice: Thomas is a bitter, haunted individual who's trying to the best he can to rescue his sister.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Thomas is covered in scars on his back due to having been tortured, but otherwise looks handsome. Quinn sports wicked scars on his face from the boatwreck and becomes the chief antagonist.
  • Gorn: If you thought Evans' work on his Raid films weren't gnarly enough, just you wait with what he puts on display here.
  • Headbutt of Love: Thomas and Jennifer do this almost every time they share a scene.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Erisden has no oppressive governments, or wars, and no need for taxation to support such, either; just make sure you keep up with the literal blood tithe, or the nice men in heavy black leather coats might drop by to have a chat with you about your adherence to the teachings of the local theocracy, and heaven forbid you're only pretending to be one of the faithful!
  • Hollywood Atheist: Thomas lost his faith because God did not save him and his parish from the Boxers.
  • Homage: The basic premise of the movie is essentially the same as that of The Wicker Man (1973).
  • Hope Sprouts Eternal: As Thomas lies dying from his wounds, the grass starts to grow, verdant and healthy, from his spilled blood. The final shot of the film shows the grass infusing with his body, implying that he has become the new guardian of the island.
  • Humanoid Abomination:
    • The Goddess looks like an old woman, but is some sort of blood-drinking nature spirit.
    • The Grinder. It's not clear if he's a former cultist or something the goddess grew out of the island.
  • Human Resources: The goddess is kept alive by being fed human blood drawn either from the villagers or the dead bodies of spies and dissenters. Towards the end of the film, Quinn even likens her to a machine – the cultists provide the fuel, and in exchange, she produces the natural resources they need to survive.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: The fate of the would-be assassin, as well as some of the town guards.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Things do not go well for the guy Thomas switches tickets with on the mainland.
  • Last Words: After his failed attempt to destroy the source of the cult's power, the mortally wounded Frank tells Thomas with his last breath to "Burn it all down."
  • Made of Iron: Thomas has survived being beaten and branded before the movie even begins, then survives a brutal, mutilating fight with The Grinder, a stabbing contest with Quinn, and manages to run partway to the docks before finally collapsing from multiple knife wounds in the chest and gut.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child!: Andrea's mother died giving birth to her, and while her father never outright blames her, she can tell he holds it against her. She mentions that only her maternal uncle could look at her, be reminded of her mother, and smile.
  • Meaningful Name: Thomas shares his name with one of the Apostles, who is known as "the Doubter" because he initially doubted Jesus's resurrection. Like his biblical namesake, Thomas is shown to be skeptical of God's power..
  • Mundane Horror: A quaint island village where no one wants for anything...but the religious statue in the center of town clearly isn't the Virgin Mary, the village leader has his own personal Men in Black, if not Secret Police, and all the newcomers are given identical "receptacles" to fill...
  • Nature Is Not Nice: Malcolm and Quinn imprison the Goddess to try to force her to provide them with bountiful harvests. She retaliates by demanding greater sacrifices from them and leaving their crops to die when they fail to meet her demands.
  • No Name Given: "The goddess of this island" is never given a specific name.
  • Nothing Is Scarier
    • The first half of the movie is a relatively slow burn of a mystery, and the whole is all the better for it.
    • The Grinder. We never find out what exactly he is or what he looks like behind his mask.
  • Offing the Offspring: Quinn murders his own daughter for getting pregnant and trying to elope with Jeremy.
  • One-Word Title
  • Only Sane Man: Frank is the only one among Erisden's founders who acknowledges that their supposed utopia has become everything they did not want it to be.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: Siblings Thomas and Jennifer give one to each other.
  • The Power of Blood: The cult leaders originally offered animal blood to "the goddess of this island," but by the time Thomas arrives, all cult members must make regular sacrifices of their own blood.
  • Primal Fear: One notable scene has Thomas slogging through a narrow, dimly-lit tunnel filled with blood and viscera, while being chased.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Jeremy attacks Quinn rather than report his actions to the rest of the community.
  • Screaming Woman: Jennifer, which is understandable considering how out of her element she is, and all she's being put through.
  • Spiritual Successor: Something of a modern The Wicker Man (1973), only much gorier.
  • Spoilered Rotten: It's a slow-burn horror movie that runs on suspense and mystery as much or more than Gorn, so this comes with the territory.
  • The Starscream: Quinn eventually usurps Malcolm's position as Erisden's leader.
  • Starts Stealthily, Ends Loudly: The climax of Thomas's time on the island is in stark contrast to how he arrived.
  • Stuff Blowing Up
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Thomas is cold and cynical except with Jennifer, to whom he is very sweet and loving, although he clearly develops a soft spot for Andrea too.
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Jeremy's attack on Quinn goes surprisingly well, but still ends how you'd expect.
    • After Jeremy's brutal public execution, Frank realizes that Erisden is beyond saving and decides to kill the "goddess." However, instead of quietly sneaking off while everyone else is distracted, he loudly announces his intentions to the crowd.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The tithe, the Heathen's Stand, The Grinder, Thomas's backstory, and several other key plot points/twists are explicitly shown in the official trailer.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: About halfway into the film we find out how Thomas came to be the bedraggled, drug-addicted wretch seen in his father's house at the beginning.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Malcolm seems to honestly believe that he can maintain a utopian community, despite profaning the worship of, and effectively torturing the local guardian spirit, in addition to thumbing his nose at the British government, and ransoming a rich man's daughter to keep Erisden fed.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Thomas, before getting shoved across the Despair Event Horizon in his backstory.