Gareth Evans hit the film industry like a freight train. No one saw The Raid coming, and it forever changed the landscape of action films to come. Even if you have not seen the film or its sequel, which was also helmed by Evans, you have seen the effects of its impact in other films from the latter entries in the Fast and Furious franchise to John Wick.
For his first feature length film since The Raid 2, Evans switched gears a little and made a mystery/horror film for Netflix, Apostle. The film follows Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) as he attempts to rescue his sister from the clutches of megalomaniac Prophet Malcolm (Michael Sheen), who is holding her for ransom, in hopes of helping fund his fringe religious group on a secluded island which the British Empire is trying to shut down.
Premiering this month of Netflix, Apostle is a beautifully shot rollercoaster ride that will shock and thrill viewers from start to finish. We sat down with the Gareth when the film premiered at this year’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas to discuss the film and its influence.
Den of Geek: Netflix puts a lot of great things out there that are pushing the boundaries, but did you at anytime think while you were putting this film together that, “They’re not going to let me do this?”
Gareth Evans: Weirdly, they were on board so early on in the process and I don’t want to sound like I’m just preaching on their behalf, but it was such a perfect collaboration, because they didn’t really tell me what the limits were on anything. I was able to go off and explore, create my vision, and they were behind that vision so early on. It was supportive all the way throughout. But yeah, there were moments that we would screen something for them and we would think, “…hope they’re ok with this.” Though, nothing got flagged up, and that kind of creative freedom was really, really rewarding; it was great.
It’s a beautiful looking film too, and you came out there right off the bat with that opening shot. Was there a part of you that wanted people to understand that you’re not just the hand held guy running around with a camera?
A little bit of that. This was such a different film from The Raid and The Raid 2 and I knew there was a level of expectation going in where I’m seen as “The Action Guy.” And that’s fine! I’m very blessed to be within this industry, first and foremost, to make those films. I’ve had such a wide varied interest in films since I was a child, so I always wanted to try different things and explore different types of genres, and this is one I really wanted to try. In a way, it was slightly a conscious decision to have the more classical composition, specifically in the beginning of the film. It drip feeds, for a little while. You get little nuggets of information here and there before it gets to a point where it escalates and concludes the way it does. That is where you will see some of the DNA of the style we might have done in The Raid and The Raid 2.
What other kinds of influences were there, because I can’t help to start thinking a little bit of The Wicker Man. The masked minions also kind of gave me a bit of a Resident Evil vibe.
Wicker Man is a definite leaping off point, without a doubt. All of that British folk horror was such a massive part of the DNA of this film. I looked at things like, The Witchfinder General, as well. Those kind of, key set piece moments in that genre of film making is what we wanted to achieve in our film as well; for instance in sections like the Heathen’s Stand sequence. The Ken Russell film The Devils, though, was probably the biggest influence for me on this I had kind of dismissed it for awhile, because as a child I had seen all these documentaries on censorship, and all they would show was the extremity of them film. So when I finally got to see the movie, I got to see what was beneath it all and what was going on in the full cut of that film, and it was such an astonishing piece of work.
Let’s talk about the Heathen’s Stand. What I loved about the film is that, in the case of most films like this people will want to sell you only one side of more explicit scenes. They will either just want the audience to use their imagination and not show you much, or they will go all out and just show you every gory detail. You have a balance between both of them here, was that always the plan?
Yeah, definitely. Sometime I’ll see comments about the films I’ve made and it’s like— you think you’ve seen more in the Heathen’s Stand seen than you actually did. I’ll show you exactly how a device like that will work, and I’ll show you all of the inner workings of it, and I’ll get you to a point where you can now fill in all of the blanks yourself. But from that moment one, we never show you any detail, except the aftermath. That was kind of the key point to it, it was find just enough to let the audience put the rest of it in their heads…no pun intended.
I find often that when a film is based on faith, let’s say, it tends to be that the filmmaker had something in their past that makes them want to bring it up. Was that the case for you?
To be honest, it’s more about the story I was telling. I’ve never really been raised with any sense of a strong faithful upbringing myself, but I’ve always been taught to respect other people’s faith. And that is something that has been a constant through my life, whether it comes to my own inner family or with the relationships I’ve had with the guys I worked with in Indonesia as well. I didn’t want this film to come across as any sort of attack on religion. It’s more an attack on man’s ability to corrupt religion and the idea that people can use religion to further a political gain. That, for me, was the fundamental thing about this film as opposed to something that is derivative of religion itself.
Apostle is now streaming on Netflix.
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