It seems like any time a major Hollywood film is announced, fans want Gareth Evans to direct it. Evans is known for making arguably two of the best action films ever, The Raid and The Raid 2, and yet, somehow, has yet to make one of those big studio movies everyone is so eager to see him do.
"The problem is I have this thing when I do a film, I really want to give all of myself to it. Commit 100 per cent to the vision on it," Evans told Gizmodo last month at Fantastic Fest in Austin, TX. "I can't do that in a studio environment. [But] I can do that on a film like Apostle with creatives behind it like the teams at XYZ and Netflix. They allow me that creative freedom to flex these muscles."
Apostle, which Evans wrote and directed, is a two-plus hour period film about a man who travels to a remote island to find his kidnapped sister. It's not just the furthest thing from a big budget superhero movie, it's a huge departure from The Raid films for which Evans is so well-known.
"Once The Raid one and two had come out, as great and wonderful as those films were for me creatively, it became a thing where I was like 'Action? No,'" Evans said. "My passion for film came from a big array of different styles, so I wanted to go off and do something a bit different."
First, Evans made a short film called Safe Haven, which is part of the anthology film V/H/S 2. It's about a news team who infiltrate a cult with disgusting and terrifying results. "[Safe Haven] was an opportunity for me to try to do something horror and I noticed there were certain visual similarities in the storytelling between horror and action," Evans said. "Even when it had action it was more horror-based action, less martial arts action. So it all sort of evolved from there."
That experience ended up fusing with a memory Evans had from long before he made not just The Raid films, but any films at all. "Weirdly going way, way, way, back when I was a lot, lot younger, before I'd made anything professional at all, I made a short film in my Nan's house that was a very early incarnation of the plot for this," Evans said "It was about a sibling searching for a missing brother, and there was an envelope with a letter in it with a rose petal, so that was something that stuck with me."
Like that film, which Evans never finished, Apostle begins with Dan Stevens' character, Thomas, getting an envelope with a rose petal in it, which sets him off on a dangerous journey to infiltrate a cult and find his sister. But Evans didn't just want Apostle to just be a rescue movie. He set it in the past, which added one layer, made it about a religious cult, which was another, and gave the island several supernatural elements that brought it all together.
"We didn't do deep dives on the backstory because I wanted to create my own thing," Evans said. "But we took a look at things that would inform our story in terms of the period and the setting. All of that research started to inform the characters, how they behave, and what they would be willing to endure."
To give specifics on what those elements are would be a disservice to Apostle, which is an effective, captivating film with some truly wild twists and turns. However, when you watch it, do not go in expecting it to be The Raid.
"I was really nervous about screening it because it's so, so different from what I've done before," Evans said. "There's still a certain amount of the DNA in there somewhere, but there was a certain trepidation about people going to see this because it's so different."
However, while there is some worry now that the film is done, there was none of that while making it. Because Evans didn't feel like he had to continually build to epic, martial arts set pieces, Apostle allowed the director to explore other aspects of filmmaking.
"There wasn't any of that pressure in this," Evans said. "It allowed me to drip these little pockets of mystery along the way, to allude to somethings that are going to be fully explained later, some of which stay a mystery, but it allows for more of a measured approach."
Apostle is hugely cinematic, with incredible visuals and even better sound. However, because it was made for and by Netflix, most people won't ever get to fully experience the film on the big screen. Surprisingly, Evans is fine with that.
"All of my consumption of films when I was a child was on VHS," he said. "I saw films in the wrong aspect ratio, with mono sound, on a tiny, square television, with a terrible side speaker, and I was still totally immersed in films like Evil Dead 2 and The Godfather. So for me, right now we have UHD 4K streamed into a TV that's gigantic with a decent sound set up? That's not a big trade-off."
Neither, it turns out, was going from martial arts action to period supernatural horror. Apostle comes to Netflix in October.