Always watchably intense but hardly lingering, Gareth Evans’ “Apostle” is the Welsh director’s follow-up to his bone-crunching Indonesian action epics “The Raid” films. Shifting his energies to a Victorian-era island blood cult hasn’t dimmed Evans’ taste for feverish body harm, but it’s more clearly laid bare his narrative shortcomings.
Dan Stevens plays Thomas, a hollowed-out ex-missionary infiltrating an isolated religious community run by Michael Sheen’s black-hatted, zealous prophet Malcolm, who with his right-hand enforcer Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones) is secretly holding Thomas’ sister for ransom. What Thomas’ increasingly dangerous spying uncovers is an infinitely weirder and more gruesome form of corruption, one that threatens not just his personal quest, but the cult’s true believers, including Malcolm’s compassionate daughter (Lucy Boynton), and a pair of young lovers (Kristine Froseth and Bill Milner).
Evans and his capable design team, anchored by cinematographer Matt Flannery’s dank, torchlighted atmospherics, wear their “The Wicker Man” and “The Witchfinder General” influences proudly: the stench of fanatical cruelty is palpable before the first pierced flesh, and the actors lean into their Hammer-scented archetypes with theatrical gusto (which may be the only way to project the silly dialogue). But when Evans piles it on with a supernatural twist, it distracts from the concentrated nastiness of dramatizing a cramped idyll’s festering inhumanity. We may be in a flourishing moment for cross-genre hybridization, but not every story needs both a creepy cult and a malevolent spirit to sell two hours of the shivers.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Playing: Starts Oct. 12, Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; also on Netflix