Okay, first things first, because I know you’re going to forget this: Gareth Edwards is the guy who directed Monster, Godzilla, and Rogue One: Star Wars Story. Gareth Evans is the guy who directed The Raid movies. They’re both from Wales and only five years apart in age. There’s also Gareth Thomas, a gay rugby player who Mickey Rourke was supposed to play in a movie at one point, and two other rugby players named Gareth Evans, one older Welsh one and one younger New Zealand one. When in doubt, remember this classic mnemonic device: everyone from Wales is named Gareth.
Now then. The Gareth Evans in question first became known to the film world for directing now-action star Iko Uwais in the Indonesian action films Merentau and The Raid, which reinvigorated the entire action genre with their furious pencak silat action. Which is a weird thing to consider when you’re looking at Evans, who is very clearly a jolly Welsh man and not an Indonesian martial arts guy.
Turns out, Evans had gone to Indonesia to film a martial arts documentary, where he met Uwais, who was working as a driver for a telecom company at the time. Evans thought he could turn Uwais into a movie star, and he turned out to be more right than most of us could hope to be even once in a lifetime.
With that kind of track record, the easy thing for Evans to do would be to take his place as a godfather of the modern action film. Instead, he showed up at Fantastic Fest in Austin with an oddball genre-straddling period piece horror kind of a thing.
Apostle stars Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey as a man trying to rescue his sister from a religious cult living on an isolated isle in the Edwardian era — with supernatural elements. With The Wicker Man as an obvious influence, Apostle (set to debut October 12th on Neflix) is grounded and mystical and beautiful while also heavily supernatural and dizzyingly gory.
Which is another of Evans’ apparent contradictions: when we spoke with him at the festival, he seemed extremely easygoing for a guy who made a movie full of sadistic torture.
So, maybe I’ll just start at the beginning. Tell me how you originally got hooked up with Iko Uwais and how that all came about.
So, Iko, I … God. That was going way back now. I met him back in 2007 when I did a documentary on the martial arts out in Indonesia. And, we met through there. And, it was this thing whereby, initially, I knew he had a certain amount of charisma about him. He just naturally exuded it. And so, then, yeah, we did the documentary. I came away thinking I want to make films out in Indonesia. My wife was Indonesian, so we moved out there. And then, before we knew it, we were asking him, “Hey. Do you want to be a martial arts action star?” And, yeah that’s the start of the adventure.
It seemed to work out for him.
Very much so. Yeah, yeah.
So, you weren’t living there when you went to film the documentary?
No, I was living back in the UK originally, and then I traveled out there for the documentary. We spent six or seven months out there. And then, we came back to UK literally for like three months just to pack up and leave, and then we were like… we had already made our decision to kind of pursue life out there for a bit. So, we were out there for eight years.
So is this movie kind of your way of saying like, “Hey, I can do more than martial arts movies?”
Yeah. A little bit of that. Not in a way sort of it’s just a full-on statement of it, but it’s just more that thing of I grew up watching all sorts of different films, and it was really the byproduct of me being in Indonesia meant that I made those martial arts action films. I’m incredibly fortunate and blessed that that’s what came to me and that was an opportunity that presented itself. I’ve just always wanted to do different types of films. You know what I mean? I just found myself in a situation where I was known as the action guy.
And so, we did … I did a short film with Timo Tjahjanto who’s got his action films playing here tomorrow, actually, which is amazing. We did a short film called Safe Haven for V/H/S/2. And so, then, that was a situation whereby there was a taste for it. There was an opportunity to try something within the horror genre. There’s certain similarities to the style, and certain sort of aesthetic qualities that kind of carry over from action filmmaking to horror filmmaking. So, I thought I wanted to sort of explore that more, and then tell almost like a British folk horror film, and to be able to play in my own backyard, so to speak, and shoot in locations that I’ve known for years as a child growing up.
What was that location?
It was a place called Margam Park. It’s like a national park. They have beautiful castle grounds nearby, and then they have lots of wildlife areas. And then, they have this like treetops thing. And then, next door to the treetop climbing place for kids was our village. So, we built our village into this perception of the landscape.
Where is it in geographical terms?
Geographically, it’s sort of… In South Wales, we have Swansea and Cardiff is our two major cities, and it’s in the middle between there. Somewhere between Port Talbot and Bridgend. So, yeah.
And then, in terms of the story, we’re supposed to imagine it’s like an island off the coast of Scotland?
Somewhere off the coast of… somewhere in the UK. But, yeah. It’s like it’s not too far away, but it’s decent enough travel where you have to go by boat to get to it.
So then I assume Wicker Man was one of the influences?
Definitely. 100%. I mean, Wicker Man was definitely one of the influences. So was Witchfinder General. And then, The Devils, Ken Russell’s film. Those films were such a key. They were such key moments in British folk horror as a genre. But then, also, looking at sort of the more modern stuff like Ben Wheatley’s films like Kill List and A Field in England. Those films were so strong in terms of tone and atmosphere, and they harken back to that style of filmmaking. So when I was getting ready to make this, I would go back and re-watch those films, and try to kind of really understand the look and feel of those films, and why they made me feel the way they did. What it was about the aesthetic, what it was about the performance, what it was about the world building that made me feel like, “This is unlike other horror films.”
There’s just something askew about their approach to it, and that for me is more frightening than demons and ghosts and creatures. It’s the idea of, “No. It’s just real people, but they have a capacity for violence.”