Dan Stevens makes a great puzzled face, which comes in handy throughout Netflix's brutal, pulverizing thriller Apostle. Within the opening minutes, the star of FX's dense superhero mind-fuck Legion, cast here as opium addict and early 20th century failson Thomas Richardson on a mission to rip his sister from the clutches of a merciless cult, furrows his brow, widens his eyes, and purses his lips in a state of handsome confusion. As the plot slowly unfolds and takes curious detours on the way to a thunderous conclusion, Stevens becomes an ideal audience surrogate: He's not totally sure what's going on here either.
In a less stylistically pleasurable and gruesomely staged movie, that type of narrative chin-stroking might become frustrating. Luckily, Apostle was written and directed by Gareth Evans, the filmmaker behind the expertly choreographed hand-to-hand combat classic The Raid: Redemption and its ambitious sequel The Raid 2, and he brings a type of macho formalism to the material. Even at its schlockiest points, which include a few moments that might call to mind Neil LaBute's widely-mocked remake of The Wicker Man starring Nicolas Cage, this is still a painstakingly assembled work of glossy pulp.
Instead of relying on his gifts as a fight movie technician, Evans has charted a different course for himself. Apostle isn't an action movie and it's not exactly a horror movie either, though there are sudden bursts of violence and supernatural terrors to be found. Instead, he's crafted a grimy period piece that puts lofty, unresolvable questions about fanaticism through a creaky, hand-operated torture device.