Apostle, which premieres on Netflix on October 12, sits at the intersection of The Wicker Man and director Gareth Evans' past gore-fests, like The Raid. It's a movie concerned with the power dynamics of isolated communities, with faith, with hypocrisy, with Game of Thrones-esque spiritual deities, and with absolutely perverse torture devices. Most importantly, it's a movie that'll get you talking — after you expel some of its more gruesome images from your mind, that is.
Apostle begins in 1905, when Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), a full-time drifter, sets off to rescue his sister, Jennifer (Elen Rhys), from the cult that is holding her hostage. Thomas shaves his beard, transforms back into someone who looks like Dan Stevens and not a bedraggled drifter, and boards the boat to the remote island community of Erisden along with other devoted followers. He has no intention of paying ransom to the cult leaders. He's going to rescue her instead.
Actually getting to Erisden is no small feat. Prophet Malcolm and Quinn (Marc Lewis Jones), Erisden's founders, are keeping their eyes out for Jennifer's relative to arrive on the island. Thomas cleverly switches his ticket, which has a red mark, with another man's. As a result, the other man is sentenced to death, and Thomas is able to blend in.
On his first day on the island, Thomas learns more about the mysterious cult. Prophet Malcolm and his followers worship some kind of local deity — later, we learn that she's an actual goddess (Sharon Morgan). After harassing a local boy named Jeremy (Bill Milner), who is having an affair with Ffion (Kristin Forseth), Thomas also finds out why the cult has taken Jennifer: For some reason, the island's land is dying, and so the community needs money to buy crops.
The next day, Thomas finally catches sight of his kidnapped sister. Malcolm parades Jennifer around the town in order to root out her relative, who they know is on the island. Despite seeing his sister tortured, Thomas resists turning himself in to Malcolm. Instead, he chooses to follow Malcolm on a walk into the woods. There, Malcolm meets with the island's goddess, who takes the appearance of a white-haired, gaunt woman. Malcolm's not making this stuff up. This tangible evidence of a deity comes as a shock to Thomas, who abandoned God on a missionary trip to China gone awry. Presented with this goddess, Thomas must rethink his worldview.
Soon after that walk in the woods, Malcolm and Quinn finally discover that Thomas is Jennifer's relative. As the leaders search for Thomas and fight each other for control over the island, the movie spirals into an outright bloodbath. By the end of Apostle, Thomas has succeeded in his mission to rescue Jennifer — but a lot of people die along the way in uniquely upsetting ways, and Erisden falls apart. We'll go over all the big questions and plot points that bring us to the ending of Apostle.
Real quick: What’s the origin story of Erisden?
Erisden is like Australia, in the sense that it’s a place founded by criminals. Before founding Erisden, Malcolm had been some kind of incendiary political organizer. He was imprisoned for treason and sentenced to death. Seeking to escape, Malcolm stows away on a boat. When the boat crashes, he and two other stowaways — Quinn and Frank (Paul Higgins) — are brought ashore by the goddess of the island. “She chose my tongue through which to speak. A man who once walked godless,” Malcolm says. Malcolm is a true believer in the goddess. Thanks to the goddess’s intervention, he’s able to to form a peaceful, equitable, tax-free land – though it’s not going as planned.
What’s wrong with the island itself?
When Thomas walks out of the church on his first day on Erisden, he sees a plant slowly disintegrate. This is one example of a larger trend affecting the island: It’s dying. The crops are withering. Animals are giving birth to warped creatures. When Quinn discovers his daughter is pregnant, he knows that she, too, will give birth to a mangled child. Nothing is right. And that’s because the goddess is angry.
Why is the goddess angry?
Look, I’d be angry too. Think about it: The goddess shows three measly shipwrecked mortals mercy. Then, one of the mortals ties her up and forces her to make the island bloom for them, forever! How rude! The goddess is mad at her captors, especially Quinn.
That’s the big twist of Apostle. The only reason Erisden — a remote, desolate island — is inhabitable is because the goddess has been making the land fertile. When she places her fingers on Thomas’ temples, the goddess transmits a flashback of the men’s early days on the island. Quinn was the one who discovered that if the goddess is fed blood, she would make the land fertile. So, the men put her in captivity and feed her animal blood for years. When animal blood stops working, Malcolm begins feeding her his own blood (that’s what he’s so casual about slicing open his palm at the beginning of the movie). Eventually, Quinn decides the only sustainable solution is by feeding her humans.
Ah, so Quinn is evil.
Very. Quinn is the villain of Apostle. In fact, the entire movie can be read as a power struggle between him, a craven power-seeker, and Malcolm, an idealistic man who wants to build a good society but fails. Quinn's true character is revealed after he discovers that his daughter, Ffion (Kristin Froseth) is pregnant with her lover, Jeremy's, child. Quinn knows that any offspring born on the island will be mangled. Quinn, who is completely unhinged at this point, cuts the child out of her. Then, he pins her murder on Jeremy, who is innocent. Quinn enacts a "purity test" on Jeremy, which involves drilling his skull open with an awful contraption. Jeremy is then fed to the goddess.
After this double homicide, Quinn declares himself leader of the island. Unlike Malcolm, he's willing to go to extreme lengths to please the goddess.
So, what’s Quinn’s plan to sustain the community?
In the brief moments that Quinn is technically leader of the island, he reveals his plan to Jennifer and Malcolm's daughter, Andrea (Lucy Boynton), in a classic villain speech. Seemingly, Quinn’s universal solution to problems is imprisoning women. Years earlier, he had locked up the goddess. Now, he plans on keeping Andrea and Jennifer locked up in a fort so he can impregnate them and feed the goddess their babies. “Every year, she’ll celebrate,” he says menacingly. Luckily, Thomas swoops in to distract Quinn. As the women free themselves, Thomas and Quinn end up fighting to the death. Quinn dies of his wounds there; Thomas dies a while later.
What’s up with Thomas and the goddess’s deep connection?
When the goddess first sees Thomas, she calls him “my son.” They seem to share some spiritual connection. The goddess shares her memories with Thomas. Later on, Thomas frees the goddess. When Thomas dies in the grass, he’s quickly reincorporated into the earth — back to her.
Um, is the goddess named Therese?
Malcolm’s book is called “The Book of Therese,” but considering that the goddess doesn’t speak English, her name is likely not Therese, but something slightly more slithery.
Who is that man in the mask?
You mean the Grinder (Sebastian McCheyne)? The goddess is tended to by a man wearing some kind of wicker mask. He’s a bit bloodthirsty and more than a bit feral. His sole purpose is putting human meat through a grinder, collecting blood, and feeding it to the goddess via a funnel. Unfortunately, we don’t know what he is or how he got this way. Now that's a prequel I'm interested in. After an extended battle scene, Thomas kills the Grinder.
What's Malcolm going to do?
Poor Malcolm. By the end of the movie, his entire community has fled. What's he going to do next? Walk somberly along the coast? Try to have fireside chats with the goddess? Maybe, he'll sail to another island with another goddess.
Alright, alright. What does it all mean?
Beneath the movie’s violence is a fascinating discussion of what we, sniveling and greedy humans, do to the earth. The goddess is a sentient extension of the land. She is of the earth. Because of humans' inability to peacefully coexist with her, the earth is hurting.
The fact that the goddess is real makes Erisden's community especially interesting. This cult worships a higher power that's tangible, right in front of them. Malcolm is a charismatic leader, sure — but Therese is proof of his beliefs. The reason Erisden fails is because of human behavior and greed, not the goddess's behavior. She had welcomed the men to the island. Surely, she would have coexisted with them, too. According to Apostle, the power-hungry, ego-centric members of a community, like Quinn, will always foil any strivings towards egalitarianism.