How ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Southern Comfort’ Influenced Gareth Evans’ ‘Apostle’

Chris Tilly
Movies Horror
Movies Horror Netflix

Writer-director Gareth Evans burst onto the celluloid stage with The Raid and The Raid 2, action films that fundamentally changed the genre. Indonesian epics, they made Hollywood’s action output look positively pedestrian by comparison, and made a star of lead actor Iko Uwais. Evans’s new film Apostle — which hits Netflix this Friday (October 12) — is a pretty dramatic departure.

It’s a period piece starring Dan Stevens as a former missionary who heads to a remote island where his sister is being held captive by a cult. FANDOM watched the film at Fantastic Fest and reviewed it here. After the screening, we caught up with Evans to discuss the making of this thriller/horror hybrid.

Apostle Influences

Dan Stevens journeying into the heart of darkness in Apostle.

FANDOM: Were you actively trying to make a movie that’s nothing like The Raid?

Gareth Evans: 100%. Without a doubt. I think for me The Raid 1 and 2 were amazing for me. Great experiences. But not the only type of genre I love. I’ve always loved different genres. When we did Safe Haven — the short film for VHS 2 — that was the first chance I’d had to flex a muscle in terms of horror filmmaking. And noticing there were certain similarities between action and horror in terms of the visuals and the aesthetics. So really it was a chance to dive in and explore that genre a lot more thoroughly. Being back in the UK and setting up there. Looking at British folk horror — that genre of film, to look at what the aesthetics were, what the style was, and looking to do something that would be my own stamp on that.

FANDOM: Was The Wicker Man an influence?

Evans: Of course, definitely, 100%. The Wicker Man, and also films like Witchfinder General, Ken Russell’s The Devils, which blew me away when I saw it, then also more recently Ben Wheatley’s films Kill List and A Field in England. Those films all had that pervasive sense of dread and tension throughout. That was the key really — looking at those films and seeing where we could pay homage but also take our own story in our own direction.

FANDOM: You mentioned at the screening that Southern Comfort was an influence. In what way?

Evans: It’s that pervasive sense of tension. And the cat-and-mouse of it. That whole final 15/20 minutes of that film is just mind-blowing. I hadn’t seen it for a long time and I bought the Blu-ray and rewatched it and it’s just a masterpiece. That whole sequence at the end is just tension-shredding. It makes you so anxious. I also used it as a frame of reference for the boys who were writing the music, because I wanted it to have a weird Cajun sort of feel to the music. To add more layers to the design of the world that we were in. Because there are houses in that space that feel like American gothic style in terms of architecture, and others that feel more British. It was a mix of styles and designs, so I felt like there would be a mix of different music styles played in the village. But the design of those music pieces, even when they are sourced inside the scene, should feel like — in the same way that the music in Southern Comfort was used — it ramps up the tension and ramps up the atmosphere. So when Dan’s waiting to strike the hammer against the chisel, he’s listening for the rhythm of the music, so they play off against each other.

FANDOM: Did you research real folk tales and fairytales?

Evans: What we were telling was more a story about the fusion of religion and politics. And the idea of politics perverting religion for political gain. It didn’t fit within a fairytale/folklore kind of thing. I wanted to tell something that was more informed by the history of that period of time. So then we looked at events in history that would inform why we went for 1905. So the Peking Boxer Rebellion would be something that played a massive part in the character of Thomas’s loss of faith and descent into atheism. And when he survives that, he comes back to London, so that informed the timescale of it. 1905 felt like the right pocket of time to tell our story.

Violence and Religion

Michael Sheen addressing his congregation in Apostle.

FANDOM: Does the film reflect your feelings about religion?

Evans: I don’t see the film as being an attack on religion. I’ve got a lot of close friends and family members who are religious. I’ve always had respect for their beliefs. But you don’t have to look too far in the news to see stories of people perverting religion for their own political gains. And it’s not just now — it’s decades old and centuries old, in that respect. For this film specifically, that element was always supposed to be a subtext. First and foremost we’re telling an adventure story that morphs into a thriller and then morphs into a horror. But as with all the horror films that I’ve grown up loving, there’s a little bit of a subtext, in the same way that Texas Chainsaw is a response to the Vietnam War, and stuff like that. It was that kind of feeling; pulling from the headlines and reflecting that in terms of what happens. So when we see a cult doing this ritualistic kill, back when I wrote it in 2016, it wasn’t a far cry from looking at newspapers with photographs of ISIS doing these horrendous, orchestrated public executions. And that’s today. That kind of barbarism — supposedly in the name of religion — was something that had an impact on me. But again, that’s all subtext.

FANDOM: There’s some pretty graphic violence in the movie — was there anything that was too extreme for Netflix?

Evans: There was no suggestion of censorship or anything like that, they were behind this vision from the beginning. And to be honest it’s one of those things that when it comes to the heathen sequence with the table; I will show you how that table works. I’ll show you the mechanism of it, you’ll understand all of that. But the moment the drill turns, I’m going to cut to someone else’s reaction and I’m going to stay at a distance from it for the rest of it. And you can fill in the rest in your head. Because for me that scene had to hurt emotionally. That’s a big difference between this film and The Raid 1 and 2. Because the moments of violence in those films are meant to be adrenalised and exciting and escapism. But for me in that sequence, it’s about a man who is about to take control of a community. It’s about the introduction of a new militaristic rule. And so then it’s about the real emotional pain of that sequence.

“Later on, when we get to the scene with the mangle table, that’s very much the horror action scene. So, in that respect, the tone and the approach can be slightly different. You can show certain things that I wouldn’t have shown in that heathen sequence. And so it’s always looking at those individual moments and finding where I can and can’t show things. What’s my own personal barometer of what’s OK. And I know that won’t be everyone’s barometer. There will be people out there who will have a problem with that stuff. And there will be other people who thought I went too soft in places. Not many [laughs]. But for me, I’ve only ever gone with what my barometer says. And fair play to Netflix, they bought into it.

FANDOM: Was it nice seeing Apostle on the big screen last night, and are you sad that the majority of people will be watching it on TV?

Evans: Obviously it’s lovely seeing it big and loud and projected. I think for everyone who makes a Netflix Original, it doesn’t diminish the way in which we make our films. They encourage us to make them as big as we possibly can. It’s got to feel special. But it’s a weird thing, in the ’80s, all the films I watched, Evil Dead, The Godfather, the first time I saw them was on VHS pan-and-scan, 4:3, mono sound coming out of a 16-inch television. But they still captivated me. I still felt like I was seeing something incredible. Fast-forward to today and we’re looking at gigantic televisions that can handle 4k. Sound bars with better sound than we’ve ever had at home. So, really, the trade-off is not that big anymore. And the fact is they allowed us to play at a festival like this. But the trade-off for them giving me all of that support in terms of the vision of the film from the get-go was worth it.

Apostle launches on Netflix tomorrow (October 12). Read our review of the movie below.

Chris Tilly
FANDOM Managing Editor in the UK. At this point my life is a combination of 1980s horror movies, Crystal Palace football matches, and episodes of I'm Alan Partridge. The first series. When he was in the travel tavern. Not the one after.
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