Modern Horror’s All Folked Up

A viewing of the recent Netflix horror film APOSTLE last night inspired a few thoughts on recent trends in the genre.

Basically it’s the bloke that made THE RAID having a crack at THE WICKER MAN.

(Or, if you prefer, Welsh director Gareth Evans – who gained a cult following for his uber-violent Indonesian action flicks – turns his talent to an atmospheric period horror film set rather closer to home.)


First off, it’s pretty good, though at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, like so many recent movies, it’s too long. Hey, you quit making overly bloated films, I’ll quit whining about it.

This self-indulgent editing does give you rather too long to ponder some of the weaknesses in the plotting and generally threatens to leech some of the urgency and suspense from proceedings.

But it doesn’t destroy them, and – bam! – when things get messy and nasty in the final couple of acts, they hit like a freight train. If you’d forgotten that this was directed by the chap behind THE RAID, you soon remember here. The violence and Grand Guignol brutality is so flamboyant that it almost won’t gel with the film’s preceding sinister slow-burn scene-setting. But I’ve bought this ticket and I’m definitely on board for this rough ride.

You might charge that making WICKER MAN comparisons these days is lazy criticism. I’d respond that making WICKER MAN pastiches these days is lazy filmmaking. I confess to heaving a little inner sigh when yet another film sets out to try and jump onto the increasingly rickety folk horror band wagon.

It’s not that I don’t like folk horror. Quite the reverse. Replacing traditional Gothic themes with folkloric tropes is an excellent opportunity to introduce freshness into a horror movie. And it’s not like I object when the horror films I love mine the well-worn Gothic tradition. It’s just…

Well, for one, I am allergic to buzzwords. And for a long time ‘folk horror’ was a buzzword in search of substance. It meant virtually nothing (three tangentially related vintage Brit horror movies) and everything (a fandom has grown up, dedicated to labelling everything, from bus timetables to Donald Trump’s hair, as ‘folk horror’).
From somewhere in-between emerge these WICKER MAN rip-offs, some pretty good, some not so good. All welcome in their own way. I mean, rather these than lazy zombie snoozeathons, home invasion toss, or torture tedium.

I’m just not convinced that this has something profound to say about our relationship with our lost rural roots in the 21st century. THE WICKER MAN is horror’s salted caramel. It was an interesting flavour when you first heard about it, but now everyone is doing it, it’s not so special, and there’ll be a new taste sensation along presently.

But as it goes, THE APOSTLE is one of the more toothsome examples.