With Apostle, can The Raid’s Gareth Evans do for horror what he did for martial arts?
Gareth Evans’ first film since The Raid 2 is as lighthearted and familyfriendly as you’d expect. So not very.
FOUR YEARS. THAT’S how long it’s been since The Raid 2 thundered onto screens. After spending two years on an untitled, big-budget action epic that flamed out in development hell, director Gareth Evans is finally back. Apostle, his first English-language film, is set in 1904, but don’t expect a dainty Edwardian period drama. It stars Dan Stevens as a fallen preacher who, after receiving a cryptic ransom note, travels to an island to rescue his sister from Michael Sheen’s sinister cult. “He doesn’t know who the fuck has her,” says Evans. “Or the trap he’s walking into.”
There’s certainly nothing dainty about the set that Empire witnesses. The first thing we clock are blood-spattered shirts drying on a clothesline: wardrobe casualties from the previous day’s shoot. Today’s sequence, shot on a teetering cliff edge, is no cheerier. It sees Stevens infiltrating the island, and befriending Bill Milner’s disciple. The camaraderie doesn’t last long. Five hundred feet above the crashing waves, the conversation descends into violence as Stevens, armed with an axe, batters a quivering Milner to the ground, demanding answers about his vanished sister. Overhead planes, bobbing boom mikes and Stevens’ enthusiastic slapping keep sabotaging the shot. There are 10 takes. By the end of it, Milner looks like a battered cod. Evans isn’t messing around here.
Based on the filmmaker’s first ever short film, Rose Petal, what started out as a “small, under-the-radar horror” has escalated, says Evans, into something “absolutely fucking mental — we’ve even built an entire town for Sheen’s cult”. Filmed on Evans’ home turf in Wales, Apostle’s premise sounds like ‘Missionary: Impossible’, and a radical departure from the ganglands of Indonesia. “Well, it is and it isn’t,” says the 38-year-old director. “Apostle is a survival horror, but then so was The Raid — The Shining and The Evil Dead were huge influences on that film, but the tone I’m aiming for is vintage British horror. If I can get close to the paranoia that hums through Witchfinder General, The Wicker Man and Ken Russell’s The Devils, I’ll be happy.”
At which point, Evans, who cuts as he shoots, pulls out an ipad and lets the footage do the talking. While Evans’ frisky camera work and Stevens’ crunchy combat are rigorously Raid-like, Evans really isn’t joking about The Devils — one set-piece features a cult ritual so ferocious, a full year after seeing it, the savage imagery’s still drilled into our skulls. If The Raid movies raised the bar for martial arts cinema, looks like Evans is aiming his Taser at the horror genre. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
APOSTLE IS ON NETFLIX FROM 12 OCTOBER
Empire spoke to Gareth Evans on set in Bridgend, South Wales, on 31 May 2017.
Clockwise from main: Dan Stevens as Thomas Richardson; With love interest Andrea (Lucy Boynton); Michael Sheen (left) is Prophet Malcolm Howe; Sinister things are afoot; Howe faces an assassin.