Perhaps, in the spirit of spooky autumnal festivities, you decided to click on Netflix's Apostle, an original period horror film featuring Dan Stevens and Lucy Boynton. Before watching the movie, you may have known these fine actors from whimsical works such as Beauty and the Beast and Sing Street. Fun! But Apostle is not a charming musical. Nope, it's a grisly thriller with an ending so gruesome and maddening that you'll be heavily breathing while also scratching your head. If you need to tease out what the hell happened by the end of Apostle, we've got you covered, sans sketchy burlap sacks or creepy black robes.
Warning: Major spoilers for Apostle ahead!
Here's the basic premise of the movie: Former missionary Thomas Richardson (Stevens) goes to a remote Welsh island called Erisden, which is inhabited by a small but intense cult of people. The island's leader, Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), is holding Thomas's sister Jennifer for a ransom, which he needs in order to keep his people from going hungry. So Thomas travels to Erisden, trying to figure out a way to set his sister free. Halfway through the movie, we learn that the cult doesn't solely worship exploitative leaders; a bloodthirsty goddess at the heart of the island really does exist, and the rulers need to feed her blood so the island remains inhabitable. She also has a (very creepy) keeper called The Grinder, a blood-soaked man in a cocoon mask. After learning all of this, Thomas escapes into a cave, where Andrea (Boynton), Malcolm's daughter, gives him a change of clothes.
Things go crazy the day after Thomas's excursion, and suffice to say, the third act is packed. The local teenagers Jeremy and Ffion find out that she is pregnant. Jeremy asks his lover to leave the island with him so they can start a new life together. As he's retrieving a gift for her, Ffion's father, Quinn, catches her alone. In a furious rage, he murders her upon confirming his suspicions about her pregnancy. (There's a whole thing about how all the animals on the island are being born mutated, and he's convinced her baby will be a monster.)
When Jeremy comes back and fights him, Quinn ambles out of his home, accusing the boy of killing his daughter. Jeremy runs all the way to Andrea and Thomas, but the island's guards get a hold of him, and Quinn brutally tortures him in front of the whole town. (Squeamish? Skip ahead.) He straps the poor boy to a medieval board and rotates a giant screw into his brain. Then, he shoves some flower petals into the mush to "purify" him.
Malcolm arrives on the scene to talk sense into Quinn, but it's too little too late. Quinn calls him a fake prophet, and women demand that he prove his worth by slitting Thomas's throat. Thomas manages to run off to a remote cabin, where the goddess and The Grinder reside. The Grinder kills Jeremy's father, who, with his last breath, tells Thomas to burn everything. In the creepy, foliage-laced cabin, Thomas finds his sister but then gets caught by The Grinder, who puts him through a torture device. After losing a few digits, he summons the strength to kill the cocoon-masked man. The goddess tells Thomas that she's been waiting for him (but in a friendly way) and asks him to set her free. Requesting her forgiveness, he sets her on fire.
Meanwhile, Quinn tracks down Andrea and Jennifer and chains them, planning to rape them annually and feed their babies to the goddess. In the distance, the entire island burns down. When Quinn figures out what's going on, he almost leaves them there. But Thomas fights him, getting severely wounded in the process before finishing him off with the women's help.
The three of them run to a boat to escape, but Thomas stumbles and tells them to go on without him. Jennifer and Andrea manage to hop on a boat, their fates uncertain.
As Thomas dies, Malcolm creeps up behind him. Thomas notices sprouts growing beneath his blood drops. Both men smile. Then Thomas peacefully lays down on the grass, roots growing through him as his eyes turn cloudy like the those of the goddess. Cut to the credits and Neil Reid's now very creepy "Mother of Mine" playing in the background.
What a doozy, right? The movie, as you may have suspected, is allegorical. In case you're wondering what it all means, director Gareth Evans, luckily, has been generous with sharing his vision.
The goddess is Mother Nature. But she's not the benevolent Mother Nature that most may know, at least not within the movie's context. In an interview with Collider, Evans explained, "They [the colonists] turn up and they find her. Instead of revering her, they want to abuse the power they can get from her. They enslave her. From there on, that's when the crops become toxic, because it's not because of her natural ability but because she's forced to."
For Evans, the ending of the movie signals the start of a new cycle. With regards to Thomas's final movement, the director said, "He's now becoming the god of the island himself, it's almost like he's replacing her." Beyond the movie, we also see these cycles, Evans noted, in our own society. "To be honest, it's a little bit cyclical, and the way that, that conversation of politics and religion, the back of all of it. It's not new," he said.
Apostle, no doubt, is a masterful, thoughtful piece of work that offers critical social commentary as well as satisfying gore. Now, you can either binge happy shows to cleanse your mind of thoughts about creepy cults or continue your Netflix horror spree. Either way, you already have more choice than the Erisden residents.