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The harrowing Netflix horror flick exposes idolatry as a destructive force.
Gareth Evans’ slow-burn, fantastical horror film Apostle opens with a letter to protagonist Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens), informing him that his younger sister has been kidnapped by a cult-like religious group living on an island off the coast of Wales. Pretending to be a convert, Thomas sneaks onto the island and encounters the prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), who preaches a gospel of religious and political freedom. But the twisted secrets of this turn-of-the-century utopian life are slowly revealed over the course of the film—first in the nightly ritual of bloodletting, then in Thomas’ discovery of Her, the cult’s island goddess, who is nourished by consuming blood. Apostle is truly a grim fairy tale.
Story - Apostle - Theme - Idolatry - Heads
As the story patiently unfolds, Apostle slowly drills the theme of idolatry into our heads: how we create gods in our own images and ultimately become like what we worship. In this, it reminds me of James K.A. Smith’s Cultural Liturgies series, where he draws correlations between our worship and our worldview (or social imagination), between our desires and our identities. “Before we articulate a worldview, we worship,” says Smith in Desiring the Kingdom. He shifts our understanding of human beings from Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” to “I love, therefore I am.” For Smith, practices and experiences shape and form persons, whether for good or ill: “You are what you love.”
What do the characters in Apostle desire and love? It turns out that when individuals’ desires and worship begin to compete, violence ensues. Malcolm desires power and freedom, autonomy from others telling him what to do. He is using the goddess as a tool for...
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