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Apostle explores the idea of man abusing religion for political and personal gain. Evans researched cults and political ideologies from the early 20th century, especially proto-communist systems. When you look at what they try to do, the cult seems to be similar to what would become communism–this idea of a utopia where everyone is equal, even if the people at the top have a way better life, the director said. That is a bit more resonant now, but its been around for centuries–the idea of people abusing and contorting faith in order to further political ideas.
I dont want to just throw violence at the screen all the time–thats not my intent or interest, he said. So when it came to something like the Heathen Stand, Ill show you how that machine works. Ill show you what each turn of each little crank will do, and Ill get you to the point where you know exactly whats about to happen, but at the moment it happens Im going to cut away to somebody elses reaction. Or Im going to stay away from the detail on it, and it will be all in your head. So as long as Im giving you enough of a glimpse at something, you feel like you are seeing something much stronger. That sequence is meant to hurt and upset. While editing, whenever I showed the Heathen Stand sequence to someone, I felt uncomfortable.
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Evans did extensive research when it came to capital punishment and torture, all to inflict excruciating scenes of visceral horror on his characters. It all came from research into medieval methods for capital punishment, he said. To be perfectly honest, theres a lot of nastier things out there than what we came up with. It was unbearable to read up on.
The Heathen Stand is simplistic in design, but horrifying in execution. Its a simple table with crank handles for both arms and legs, and a drill on one end. It was born out of an idea of something that could tie in to a search for purity, and purifying the sinners, Evans said. So the design had to make sense, that the cult would have it. It couldnt feel too elaborate. It is something that should look ramshackle, like made off slabs of wood.
But theres a lot more than meets the eye in the cult thats at the center of Apostle. Evans turns the tables on us and goes into a supernatural plot, something hes glad Netflix has kept hidden in all the movies trailers and marketing so far.
Yet this is no mere talk of ideology and faith, for the inhabitants of the island worship an actual goddess. Its eventually revealed that the Her to which they refer is a real and very bloodthirsty nature deity who controls the crops and other plants on the island.
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Evans said he always wanted to tell a story about man discovering God. The idea at the center of the film is a question of what if man finds out God is real, and then enslaves it? he said.
Like the movies torture scenes, the result is haunting. Apostle comes out on Netflix on October 12–read ourfull reviewto find out what we thought.
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If you drill down through the horror movie landscape to the sub-sub-genren of British folk horror, youll find a common theme: Most British folk horror movies have a memorable set piece two thirds of the way through, usually involving a gruesome sacrifice or other violent death. From The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General to The Devils, these are the moments that get imprinted in your brain. InApostle, Gareth Evans newest Netflix film, it is the so-called Heathen Stand that will leave audiences everywhere squirming. Naturally, we had to chat with Evans when given the chance after the movies world premiere at Fantastic Fest.
Apostle joins a long history of horror films dealing with cults and their believers turning to violence. Gareth Evans has an idea as to why audiences are still fascinated by cults. I think its because it is the feat of getting into an environment that youre not sure you can escape from, he said. Its kind of the same as going to the house in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. You dont know what is going to happen, but you know from the get-go that theyre the bad guys. When Thomas (Dan Stevens) goes into that cult, he doesnt know who he can or cant trust, and its that cat and mouse game which keeps the tension going. Its just a situation like that, in that environment thats got a natural built tension. The benefit of us doing it on an island is that he has no escape route–it created an extra dimension of feeling trapped.
Apostle is perhaps Evans most violent and gnarliest film to date, and he knows not everyone will be on board. It is definitely a violent film. I definitely feel like its not going to be for everyone. I can already sense that its going to be more divisive than anything Ive done in the past, he said. Yet for all the brutal torture and action, Evans was more restrained making Apostle than he was on the Raid films.
To create that God, Evans went back to the basic design element that permeates Apostle, from the houses built out of the ships the cultists arrived in, to the Heathen Stand itself: wood. I wanted to create a very old creature that is bound to the Earth and to the island, he said. The answer came simply in taking the wooden and ramshackle designs of the village and making them older for Her, with a sort of tree coming out of her.
It also wanted it to fit this idea of the cult being sort of pilgrims, without prefabricated houses or villages, the director continued. I thought, What would they have built all these things from? Wood. They would have cut down some trees, but they would have also used wood from the boats they travelled on to build these houses, and that torture device. The buildings and the Stand have a ramshackle feel to them, because they were made by a community of different people with different skills coming together to do their best.