Carnival Freakshow Chaos: Gareth Evans On V/H/S/2

VHS2 - Gareth Evans intro at FrightFest 2013For a man who single-handedly re-energised the action genre, Gareth Evans is charmingly self-effacing.

You’d never guess the gregarious, affable 6ft+ Welshman could orchestrate the majestically choreographed mayhem of The Raid, but that’s exactly what he did last year. And reset the action movie bar in the process.

Even more surprising is that Evans (along with co-director Timo Tjahjanto) concocted the best, most terrifying segment of anthology horror V/H/S/2, the sequel to 2012’s cult smash.

Evans and Tjahjanto’s instalment, Safe Haven, concerns a documentary crew filming a suspicious religious cult led by the mysterious, unnerving Father (Epy Kusnanda). And it happens to be on the day of reckoning, all caught on camera.

We caught up with Evans to discuss his contribution to V/H/S2 and where those terrifying images came from.

Rob Daniel: You took on V/H/S /2 because you’d always wanted to work with Timo Tjahjanto? (which I pronounce “Jajanto”)

Gareth Evans: Chai-yanto.

RD: Sorry!

GE: No, it’s cool.  Before last night’s screening (at FrightFest 2013) I asked Timo if he wanted me to say anything before the film on his behalf and he said, “Just tell people how to say my name.” That was it, nothing else, “Just tell them how to say my surname please”.

RD: So why did you want to work with him?

VHS2 - quad posterGE: First and foremost because we’ve been friends for six years since I moved to Indonesia. Timo’s supported me a lot in the film industry. We share ideas, we watch the same movies, we hang out together and when he’s writing his scripts he asks me for advice and vice versa.

We’d supported each other on a creative level but never had the chance to collaborate on anything. Roxanne and Brad (Benjamin and Miska, producers) contacted me after the first V/H/S came out and said they were going to do a sequel and wanted me to do something in Asia.

I was up for it, but anxious. I’d done action, but could I do horror? I’m a fan of it but had never approached it as a filmmaker. I was curious about what I could do, but wanted support. Now independently of me, Timo had also been asked to do V/H/S/2 and it turned out we were both thinking of asking the other to collaborate on it.

Timo’s a horror guy first and foremost, so it was a great opportunity for us to share what we’d learnt from our films together and create this messed up ride.

RD: And why did a religious cult story appeal to you?

GE: The whole story concept came from Timo. What would happen if a group of journalists were filming a cult on the Day of Reckoning? I thought that was a fucking great concept.

Then Timo played me audio clips from the Jonestown Massacre and I was terrified by it. But I told him my one concern is that I didn’t want to make something that would be painful.  In a real life context this subject matter is horrible, and we’re making this short film for an anthology and wanted to keep it, for want of a better word, entertaining.

The challenge was how could we do that with this subject matter? Our answer was to bring in the occult and the supernatural, stretching the borders of belief and ratcheting it up like a rollercoaster ride.

That way we wouldn’t have to deal too much with the real life ramifications of what occurs in these cults and play it more on an over-the-top and extreme level.

When we realised this was the key we could then push and push and make it more adrenalin packed.

VHS2 - Gareth Evans, Timo Tjahjanto, mass cult suicideRD: You say you’re not a horror director, but there are moments in The Raid that could be from a number of horror movies.

GE: I’m glad you said that. The Raid is a martial arts action film, but I wanted the framework to be survival horror. I hadn’t made a film in two years so when I started The Raid I wanted to explore everything – action, horror, gangster tropes – and throw them into this mishmash of a film.

RD: And importantly comedy too.

GE: Yeah, black comedy as well. So there were moments in The Raid that were a taster for horror and when it came to doing full-on horror I thought maybe I could do it, with support.

RD: What does horror give you as a director?

GE: What I love about action and horror are that they, more than any other genre, universal. They have a means of connecting with audiences around the world; it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can associate with fear.

VHS2 - Gareth Evans, nurseRD: There are shots in Safe Haven that are pure nightmare. I’m thinking of the scene when the nurses have the heroine and are laughing and screaming as they drag her toward something terrible.

GE: I’m so glad you pointed that scene out because that was the one shot Timo and I were most excited about. Before that scene you’ve got slasher and suspense. But, when they are all looking into the camera and everyone is screaming, batshit crazy we got what we wanted for our finale: carnival freakshow chaos.

And those poor women were carrying her for real. Four slight women carrying this actress, doing take after take of looking into the camera screaming maniacally, it was a full-on horror moment.

A lot of the film’s impact is because we were backed up by a really good cast. Epy Kusnandar, who played cult leader Father, brought so much to the film we didn’t even consider. When we were doing that scene with the women and Epy’s leading them, he just started singing. None of it was scripted, he just made the lyrics up on the spot and we loved him for that.

RD: Yes, I was going to ask specifically how Kusnandar was to direct, but he sounds like a force of nature.

GE: He is. He comes from a theatre background and just gives you so much. He’s only a small guy and skinny as fuck, but he has this violent presence about him.VHS2 - Epy Kusnanda, Gareth Evans

RD: When I heard you were doing a short film I thought it was to blow off steam following The Raid. But, I read this was an arduous shoot?

GE: Fuck yeah. Eight days, no breaks, eighteen to twenty hours a day, one day just under twenty four hours. It was crazy.

But, that’s filmmaking in Indonesia. We have all these ambitious ideas we want to push 100% or we don’t do it.

The budget for V/H/S/2 wasn’t high, but we wanted to throw everything at the screen and just thought, fuck it, we won’t get an opportunity to do this again so let’s push as far as we can. But it was a tough old shoot.

RD: Did you have cast and crew on side though?

GE: Absolutely. We’ve always been lucky to have support from cast and crew for everything we’ve done, not just this one. Indonesian filmmakers – their heart is in it and they want it to be as good as they can make it, no matter the shooting conditions.

VHS2 - Gareth Evans, Timo Tjhjanto, executionAnd the actors playing the three main journalists are big stars in Indonesia. They wanted to work with us so we thought fuck it, let’s exploit that, pay them peanuts and put them through hell for eight days! But, seriously, they were totally committed to what we were doing.

RD: You certainly got performances to savour. That guy in the final shot is particularly raw, with every fluid that can fall out of his face actually doing so…

GE: I know, we got so lucky with that. But thank God we didn’t shoot it in 3D!

Rob Daniel

V/H/S2 is available to buy and rent on demand now.

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