Exclusive: Gareth Evans talks Apostle, The Raid 3 and Freddy Krueger!

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

Gareth Evans is undoubtedly best known for crafting three insanely elaborate martial arts epics: MERANTAU, THE RAID and THE RAID 2. True aficionados of his work know he mixed it up a little with the deliciously grotesque Safe Haven segment of V/H/S 2, a full-on blast of blood-soaked horror he co-directed with longtime friend Timo Tjahjanto. Now, Evans has fully delved into the horror domain with APOSTLE, an eerie thriller set in the early 1900s about a man (Dan Stevens) searching for his kidnapped sister on an island ruled by a cult. Netflix produced the film and released it this month, just in time for Halloween season.

In the below interview, I speak to Evans about APOSTLE's earliest inspirations, working with Netflix, his fear of Freddy Krueger (!) and what happened to THE RAID 3.

So how long has APOSTLE been in your head?

The first iteration of Apostle was a short film, back in 2004 or 2005, somewhere around there. I was shooting at my grandmother's house, and it was about a sibling trying to find her missing sibling, and all that was left as a clue was a rose petal in some foil. That was it, that's all it was, we never completed it. Off the back of The Raid 2, I was going to go off and make my own action movie next, it was going to be a step away from martial arts. It was going to be an American film, we were going to shoot in Europe, and it fell through at the last minute, there was some scheduling issues. When that fell apart, I was suddenly in a situation where I'd gone two years without making anything, and I knew I wanted to make something again. I didn't want it to be a martial arts film, I knew I wanted to step away from that, because I made three of them back-to-back in Asia. I've watched so many different types of films, so many different genres, so I really wanted to make something that was different. I had a blast working on Safe Haven with Timo for V/H/S 2, it was different muscles to flex, it was quite fun to do something that was within the horror genre, being able to put the DNA of my filmmaking style into it. So I took a look at that short film concept and started doing a deep dive into research and worked alongside Aram Tartzakian from XYZ Films to really get the sense of what kind of film this could be, so we started doing the world building, the character building, started figuring out what the politics were, what the theology was, and all those things started to dictate- it started off as a thriller, and it started to dictate these supernatural, occult elements that would permeate the film, and it started to morph into a horror film by the end of the movie. During that research, obviously I started to delve into British folk horror, so I was rediscovering films like The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, Ken Russell's The Devils, and so those films became a major influence on me in terms of that very particular aesthetic of British folk horror.

I was just going to say, it really reminded me of the many British cult and occult thrillers from the 60s and 70s, Hammer Horror, that sort of thing.

When I was a kid growing up, I didn't really get to see that much horror. My dad wasn't a fan of horror, and my dad was the one who would pick the films we would watch. So a lot of my fears of horror as a genre came from being terrified of the box art on the VHS tapes. Seeing a picture of Freddy Krueger terrified the shit out of me. I had never seen a Nightmare on Elm Street film until I was 14 or 15, but all throughout my childhood I was terrified of it. I remember being like 7 or 8 and my older brother was going to watch the film at a friend's house, and I was so terrified that it was real, that if he watched the film Freddy would come and get him in his sleep. I ran downstairs crying and told my parents don't let him go to his friend's house to see the film. So there was a weird fascination with horror at an early age, but one that was built primarily on absolute fear, as opposed to an embrace of it as a genre.

After the grueling schedules of both RAID films, what challenges did a less action-heavy movie like APOSTLE present?

On The Raid 1 and 2, I had a huge, long shooting schedule, lots of days to achieve what we achieved, far more than most action films will get outside of Indonesia. So when we shot Apostle, we had significantly less days than we had on The Raid or The Raid 2. It's a different process; when you're filming something in Indonesia, your day ends when you finish that scene. But in the UK, that day ends after 10 1/2 hours. And if you need the extra 20 minutes to get the scene finished, you've got to make that back up at the end of the week. It was a real interesting discipline to learn and to approach. So it was that thing of, thank god I had Matt Flannery, whose been my D.P. and collaborator for so long now, because we have our own little box of tricks that we would use and rely upon. If we were really up against it, and we had a scene we had to finish shooting and we only had two hours to shoot it, and initially we might have scheduled a 20 set-up sequence for it but can't do that anymore, we would have to think on our feet and within five minutes have a brand new shot list that would service that scene appropriately. We have a short-hand, and it sometimes led to a more interesting approach.

What was it like when Netflix became involved? Did they have any notes or changes they wanted you to make? I believe they got involved during pre-production, right?

We hadn't gotten into pre-production yet, we were still shopping the script around. We started pre-production around December or January, and they came on with a draft of the script that was dated October of that year. They really backed the vision of it, it was the only way the movie was going to get made, was through them. They backed a version of the script that even I wanted to keep making changes to, so they were very, very supportive. Obviously, they would give notes, like anyone would, there was a lot of money being spent. But also my experience with Netflix was that when we were doing the edit of it, the notes would come in and be like, "These are not restrictive. These are conversation starters. If you look at this note and you disagree with it but it opens up an avenue elsewhere, then let's continue to explore that other avenue." So it was a really supportive environment in which to work.

Do you see a longer version being released one day?

No, because I think the version I made in the end is the version I want put out. The three hour version was an assembly cut, it wasn't a director's cut. There are sequences that we'll probably release as deleted scenes. There was a whole alternate opening to the film that was more focused on Thomas' time in London, it was about him pursuing a lead to get the ransom money to pay for his sister, so we did a whole sequence based on that. It actually ended up becoming a set piece in the film, but it felt too early in the story, it never felt like it vibed right, like I was asking you to invest in a set piece without really getting to know who the fuck this person is. That was the difference between this and The Raid. In The Raid, everything is adrenalized, I could fall back on action to keep that level of excitement and interest in it. That wouldn't work in this, because every time we would do something, it had to feel like it was as a result of the narrative, as a result of the characters. So when that set piece was cut, it wasn't cut because it was in the early stages, it was cut because it felt off, I couldn't find a way to make it feel like it was going to be loaded with that emotional investment we needed for that scene to work. But that is something that we will put out eventually.

What's next for you? You pretty much ruled out doing another RAID movie, so do you know what's next?

So when I ruled out The Raid 3, I felt a little bit of a backlash over that. [Laughs] It's really humbling that people want to see it. It's not that I'm turning my back on action. If anything, I'm about to jump back in and embrace it again. We're going to do a 10-part, nine-hour series for Sky Atlantic and HBO/Cinemax, a contemporary action thriller set in London. I've been working with my stunt coordinator for Apostle, we've been designing action sequences for this TV show. It's going to be ten hours worth of various action set-pieces. So I'm going to dive back into that world; it's got some brawling stuff, it's got some gun play, it's got some car chases. A wide spectrum of action we're going to be exploring in this series. So I'm not turning my back on action by any stretch of the imagination. I just feel like, what we did with The Raid and The Raid 2… when Rama says 'I'm done,' that was kind of us saying we were done with it.

I knew what I wanted to do with The Raid 3, I knew what that story was going to be. If I was ever going to make it, it really had to have happened after we made The Raid 2. The storyline was going to pick up – I'll give you a little bit of it – if you were watching The Raid 2 and rewound from the ending about 15-20 minutes back to when Goto gives instructions to his right-hand man to go kill the police, kill the politicians, 'kill everyone that we work with, we're going to start fresh,' that was going to be the first scene of The Raid 3. It was going to be more about the yakuza than it was going to be about Rama; Rama was not really going to feature in that storyline much at all, it was going to be about the bosses in Japan realizing that someone in Jakarta that represented them started to f*ck with the politicians and the police in a country they don't belong in. It was going to be the fallout from that."

It was going to be a 95 minutes, 100 minutes, sort of… escape into the jungles of Indonesia type of thing. But it really needed to be made at that period of time. Four years, five years later to go back and try to recreate that, it felt a bit disingenuous. I made three martial arts films in a row, I wanted to explore other things first. It was always a cool idea, but it stopped being really special for me. The Raid, it gave me an awful lot that I'm very appreciative about, but that adventure is kind of over now.

Well, if you end up making it five years from now, I'll be okay with it.

[Laughs] Thank you so much, cheers.

APOSTLE is currently on Netflix.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for JoBlo.com. He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.