Gareth Evans burst into the awareness of film lovers everywhere with his blistering action movie The Raid, so it was very exciting when he signed on to direct a segment in horror anthology movie V/H/S/2 with Timo Tjahjanto. ‘Safe Haven’ finds a group of documentary filmmakers interviewing a cult leader, only to discover that they’ve become part of his plan.
SciFiNow talked to Evans the morning after V/H/S/2 played to the FrightFest audience and the director was thrilled with how it went down. “I’ve seen it on screeners and on iTunes but I’ve never seen it in the theatre full, with all the sound cranked up like that, all the audience reactions, it was great.”
This interview contains some spoilers.
The first time we saw the film it didn’t have subtitles…
Now it all makes sense! Well, the goat doesn’t make sense but everything else makes sense!
How did you get involved with V/H/S/2?
Basically when we released The Raid and did a screening in Toronto at Midnight Madness, I got to meet with Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett because they had You’re Next screening there. We became this community of the midnight madness guys, we were championing each others’ films so it was like a good bond there. And I also met Roxanne and Brad from The Collective and they’d already gone off and done V/H/S, and when that played at Sundance it had such a strong reaction, immediately they wanted to do V/H/S/2.
So then they reached out to me and they also reached out to Timo [Tjahjanto]. Timo has been a friend of mine for years, we’ve watched films together all the time, we have very similar interests in movies and what we want to do as filmmakers. We’ve always wanted to find something we could collaborate on. Because they approached us separately, I spoke to him and was like “I got offered this thing, I’m really interested to do it, but I’m not sure.” I was a little bit apprehensive because I know I could do action but I don’t know if I could do horror, like full-on horror, and so I wasn’t sure how it would pan out. Then he was offered it as well and he was like “Why don’t we collaborate? Why don’t we just do this thing together” and it just made sense.
And I gotta give full credit to him because he was the one who came up with the full storyline for it, he was the one who said “Let’s do it about these journalists who go into this cult group and what if it’s the day of reckoning?” And I was like “That’s a fucking great idea!” So it was this thing of being able to take that and snowball with it, we started coming up with the script then and trying to figure out a unique way we could shoot it. And I’ve been a fan of some of the found footage stuff. I love the Paranormal Activity films, I love Cloverfield, I love the different ways you can approach stuff with it in the genre. There are a lot of bad found footage movies obviously, like there’s always good and bad in everything, but it was interesting for me to use this as an opportunity to experiment and try to figure out “What can we do differently with the camera, what can we do differently with the editing?”
Doing a short film in an anthology is a really safe environment to test those things out. Worst case scenario: We make the worst one of the bunch and then there’s three other good films to support us. Best case scenario: it works and then it’s something we can use in a feature later on. So yeah, it was a good opportunity.
What was it like collaborating with another director?
That was the interesting thing, seeing how that would marry together. Timo’s the horror guy. He did Macabre, it’s a fucking great movie, it’s like an Indonesian take on a slasher movie, but there’s a really beautiful amount of emotion in a couple of scenes, there’s one part which fucking broke my heart, and that elevated the film so high for me, it’s a really great movie, really smart movie. So yeah, to be able to combine what I’d learned in action but put that into horror was really interesting to me.
Obviously you’ve got action experience, how did you find making a horror?
The thing is like I felt there was a certain amount of pressure on me because I’m not the horror guy so then I was like “I’ve got to have at least one idea which shocks him.” And I achieved that in one scene when we were in the script stage, I wrote something and I was like “Dude, tell me what you think,” and he was like “Fuck, that’s disgusting!” And I was like “OK great, that worked!” The medical room, because basically the idea was we wanted to have, we didn’t want it to be one idea that’s just like in the present time and that’s it. We wanted to create this certain mythology wrapping around what we were doing, so the idea was to have this failed vessel, this failed attempt still in the medical room, still on the stirrups and everything, it kind of like, it worked and allowed us a moment where we could drop the pace down a little bit and build up the tension and suspense. Yes, there’s the cheap scare with the big jump of it, but then when you pull back and you see more, it’s like it’s shocking, it’s disgusting but at the same time it tells you this isn’t the first time that they’ve tried this and it’s also a hint of what’s in store for them later on in the film. It worked well and Timo thought it was foul and disgusting and I was like “Well, let’s keep that in, then!”
It’s pretty out there…did you ever think “This is too much,” or “This is ridiculous”?
When we were shooting it, there would be about ten or fifteen times throughout the shooting where we were like…the thing is we did it very old school, very old theatrical tricks, like when we have shots of that profile of the table and you see the demon coming up through the gap, it’s literally just a hole in the table and me pushing this prop head up, or Timo pushing the prop head and then you get these moments where you’re sitting there and you’ve got glycerine and blood pouring down your eyes and you’re like “What the fuck am I doing, seriously?” And we were looking, when we did the shot of the demon coming up with the arms and everything, and we were watching playback, and there were moments where you’re like “Are we really doing this, is this really what we’re doing with this one?” So you do question yourself from time to time but I think with that it’s so extreme you’ve just got to be blind to it and just be like “Fuck it, we’re doing it, let’s go for it.”
Weirdly, it was like we had a lot of creative freedom, we could do what we wanted to. The only involvement was in preproduction we all sent our ideas in and that was just to make sure that none of us were doing the same theing. So there was no crossover in terms of central concept. But we kind of lucked out because there seemed to be this overlying theme of apocalypse and doomsday and that seemed to be the central thread that played throughout the short films, it was almost like the end of mankind in some way or another, through different epidemics and different problems. So that was quite interesting to see that four filmmakers from totally different backgrounds all coming into one anthology somehow stumbled upon a central theme. So that was cool.
There seems to be a sense that all the directors wanted to make something fun.
I don’t know how that came about either, because we all went off and shot our own thing. We didn’t know what all of us were going to do tonally but it seemed like we were all having fun. I think that was one thing, because ours could have tipped over into another element as well, because when we first started researching, Timo played me the footage from the audience tapes from the final day at Jonestown, and it was the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I just thought it was horrible, it’s really horrible and suddenly I was hit by “I wanna do this as a concept but I don’t want to do this as a serious exploration into cults.” Because if we do that then ours becomes about pain and about suffering and it becomes about something very dark and disturbing indeed. And if we do this we’ve got to find a hook to it where we can still make it entertaining, we can stilll make it fun.
Because we’ve only got twenty five minutes, thirty minutes, right. If you’ve got like an hour and a half then yeah, you can delve into that dark side of it, what we wanted to do was have something that had these weird black comedy moments, especially with the Father, he’s such a character in himself, and then it was the introduction of the occult, introduction of the supernatural idea, “What if one of these whack jobs who believes he can open up the gates of hell can?” And then that took it to the grand guignol excesses and you’re calling on European horror cinema, like “Where can we take this, this frenzy of just batshit crazy, what the fuck moments?” And that’s what rescued ours from becoming potentially a very serious one.
The Raid is relentless, did you find that the action story beats apply to horror?
It’s a weird thing, I feel like whenever we design anything, whether it’s action, whether it’s horror, whether it’s thriller, everything has that same thing, it’s all about that set-up and delivering a really good punchline. But also having a bunch of good punchlines. You don’t want to set your audience too soon and then you can’t deliver later on. Just keep ’em getting hit, keep giving these little punchline moments. And if in one sequence you can have five or six good punchlines, then it works. It helps paper over the cracks of the little tiny bits that don’t work so well.
For us, what was more interesting to me was that idea, I don’t like to say that ours is found footage in a pure sense because found footage is the idea of something that’s continuous, uninterrupted and from one source. But ours is a bunch of different cameras and a bunch of different perspectives and it’s very clearly edited. So we saw it more as POV horror. That was the only way we could kind of get away with it. But for the last five or six minutes it’s all from one camera. So the challenge for us was we had to find a way to connect everything together, because we’re not going to be able to get away with doing a five, six minute single take, we have to make it feel like it. And that location, that compound, the driving away and everything else, it’s composite of like four or five different locations. So the challenge to us was to figure out what are the similarities of the architecture of all these different locations that we could combine this corridor with this medical room, that was a fucking nightmare, that was the hardest part, probably the most interesting part. Was the challenge on a visual level to keep it feel like one flow.
How did you find showing it to the FrightFest audience?
Like I said, it’s one of those things, when you’re shooting a film it’s one of the most horribly stressful times, yeah? Everyone’s emotions are really high when you’re shooting, the littlest things set off a huge argument. So everyone’s on stress level nine when it comes to shooting the film. But the one thing that keeps you going is the idea “Well, when we show this and play it at festivals,” I love screening films at festivals, I love being able to see it with a festival audience, because, especially something like FrightFest or another festival where it’s genre based, the audience there they want to see a film and they want to enjoy it. No one comes in there with a preconceived notion of “This is going to be shit, I’m going to write it off.” They’re coming in there because they want to be entertained and to have that receptive audience and to sit among likeminded people to watch it unfold is the best feeling, it’s literally the best reaction ever. To hear those little gasps and the little what the fuck moments is great.
We’ve finished shooting, we’ve started editing. The last scene we shot in like April or May I think. That was interesting to watch that with a crowd, I was really nervous about that one. Because it’s not 100% complete yet, we haven’t done the final grade, we haven’t done the final VFX, it was weird to be showing them this. It’s kind of like sharing a baby scan, “It’s not done yet but here’s what it’ll be like…ish!” But yeah it’s kind of fun, it’s interesting. The actress, Julie, who plays Hammer Girl, we all fucking loved her in the shoot because she gave everything to it, she’s not a martial artist, she doesn’t come from martial arts background, she’s an actress who came in and auditinoed for it, and in five days she picked up the choreorgraphy. So to see people react to her, I’ve never made any bones about it, I read everyhting, so I’ll search for shit. So last night I was on Twitter and I was like “Did anyone write about Hammer Girl?” So today, this mornign I sent her a bunch of screengrabs of people’s tweets, “They love you in London!”
Did you learn anything from V/H/S/2 that you could apply, either from horror or from the found-footage technique?
That was one of the benefits of it and this is why I’m keeping myself open to the idea of, not for V/H/S/3 because I think each one should have new directors for each one, but for different anthologies and stuff like that, because you get to play around, you get to experiment, you learn different techniques.
So on this we learned about the idea of cheating that continuous take and we did that hugely in a scene we have in The Raid 2, there’s like a prison riot scene, and for the prison riot scene we have a stretch of action that lasts, the whole scene is about seven and a half, eight minutes long, but then we have this stretch of action for about two and a half minutes three minutes where you have this feeling like obviously it’s not but it’s presented in a way that makes it feel like it’s one take, this sprawling take, this whole thing going back up, crane shots. And that came from doing V/H/S/2 and I wouldn’t have learned that otherwise. And it helped us in other things as well, even in shots that weren’t necessarily meant to be one continuous flow, like the car crash stuff, where on take one the first half of the shot was good and on take three the second half of the shot was good, and then it meant that I could go in the edit and look for that one frame where I could cut from take 1 to take three and nobody would notice. So V/H/S/2 gave me a lot of different tricks I could use.
Are you still enjoying shooting in Indonesia?
This one was tough, this one was really tough, man. Every day I’d talk about it with the crew and I’d be like “Never doing a car chase in Indonesia again.” It was so fucking hard. It was so hot, anyway. We made two fatal errors. We shot on really busy roads, where we had to close them down, and the scene was set in daytime, so It was fiercely hot, we had people calling us cunts from the side of the road because they hated us for stopping traffic so long, it was very difficult to control that. You’d get permission but it’s very difficult to keep it controlled, keep it locked.
And you’d not believe how many times, because there’s so many motorbikes in Indonesia as well, so there’d always be one guy that doesn’t care that you’ve got cars smashing into each other, he just wants to go down the road. So we’d go for a take and a motorbike would go zoom past us. We’re like “He could have got killed!” So I’m done doing car chases there but it was a fucking hell of an experience. My guys I work with out there, they’ve been my crew since Maranto and The Raid and The Raid 2 and there’s only been like 10, 15 % changes in the crew, we’ve all kind of grown together and developed together and on this one we got into a really good groove together, really get some good stuff out of there. I can’t wait to release it, just got to finish editing.
Final question: What’s your favourite anthology horror?
I have a lot of time for Three Extremes, I like that one a lot. I love Miike’s one, the ‘Box’ one, because that was so unique and so different, so unusual. I’m a big fan of that one. And also Twilight Zone: The Movie! I love that one!