It is an ill-constructed period piece and not so great after all. The Apostle is a more gore and flesh business rather than a sustained meditation on cults and the effects of cultic brainwashing. It reminded me of the worst of the sexploitation movies (there are excellent movies in this genre and Richard Winters’ blog Scopophilia is the best source for this type of films). It is Puritan America of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) gone puerile (there is no Hester Prynne in The Apostle where all the women are shown as immature and do not even achieve the strength of the women we find in Amish Romances ).
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the Amish Gothic have been transplanted to early 1900’s Wales in this mishmash which makes a she-demon out of someone else’s concept of the Fertility Goddess.
It is better to read and watch Rider Haggard’s She than the strange blood-hankering shrivelled demoness of this movie. I doubt whether the director, Gareth Evans and others involved with the production of the movie have ever heard of Erich Neumann’s The Great Mother, or even Frazer’s The Golden Bough. As a period piece too it fails because in late 2018 one cannot believe that a Pastor in China who (can) survive(s) branding with a burning Cross on his back can sneak inside a cult without anyone really stopping him in the first place. Our Pastor, Thomas Richardson, who has been predictably spiritually singed after his efforts at Christian evangelisation went wrong in China casually lands up within a cult as a neophyte alongside other brainwashed followers. This is not tenable since cults recruit through insidious and prolonged propaganda, which is missing in The Apostle:
If totalist groups are to attract recruits and set up the conditions for a later rearrangement of the recruit’s close relationships they must first get the person within their sphere of influence. Then the organization can begin the isolation project, and start to position itself as the primary emotional and cognitive resource for the recruit – becoming the new, and eventually the only, safe haven. There is a three-fold process in setting the stage for the creation of a disorganized attachment bond to the group: the initial contact and gaining access to the recruit, positioning the group as a new perceived safe haven, and beginning to detach the recruit from prior attachments. Propaganda is the ideological tool wielded to accomplish this.
See Stein, Alexandra. Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.
Except for “positioning the group as a new perceived safe haven” from the law, The Apostle does not fulfil any criteria given in Stein’s book or other standard textbooks on cultic brainwashing. It fails in constructing new cultic worlds; as did Haruki Murakami in his 1Q84. More of Murakami in a moment.
Sadly the three cult leaders and their followers in Gareth Evans’s movie are fugitives from the law; portrayed in a way that they remind us of the derisive ‘pommies’. In short, the cult’s recruits are too foolish to be brainwashed: one can only brain-wash those who have brains, to begin with.
One of the best writers on cults, both fictional and otherwise, is Haruki Murakami. Murakami’s account of the Aum Shinrikyo gassings of the Tokyo subway in Underground shows a step by step process of how a cult works and exterminates others the name of some future utopia. In Murakami’s 1Q84 we again have the cult, though this time in a fictional form where there is our world of one moon and another world of two moons. If one were to disregard the book on the Aum Shinrikyo madness as unique to Japan, we have in 1Q84 an archetype of the cult in a mode unseen before in literature anywhere, thus becoming our true mimetic object of reference regarding everything cultic. The Apostle simply cracks up as a movie and is as mentioned above, is notches below other dys/utopias and far from original. Better avoid wasting your time watching this gore-spoof.
Gareth Evans is simply not reading enough: his choice of title for this movie is also misplaced. After Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, there can be only one Apostle in any hell. Evans has (sic) to reckon with Judge Holden. And by Northrop Frye, don’t please consider The Apostle a metaphor for any real-world madness. It is not worth the analysis.