Martial arts. Indonesia. Welsh director.
With its unique blend of East and West The Raid has become one of the must-see films of the year. For Gareth Evans, a native of Swansea, it’s the culmination of a journey that saw him leaving Wales for Jakarta and creating a film that has shattered expectations.
Evans’s story is an interesting one. A short film in Wales led to a feature made for just £8,000. Then his wife’s contacts in Indonesia helped him make a documentary on the martial art known as silat. There followed a feature called Merantau. Then came The Raid.
Resembling the grindhouse flicks of yore, The Raid is a non-stop battery of violence and action. For Evans, who has admitted he never envisaged himself directing martial arts movies, it’s all about focusing on what’s gone before, and what works on screen.
“I like to mix up genres together,” he says. “So The Raid is me mixing martial arts with horror, really. I realised when we were designing The Raid that it’s a survival horror. Technically, at its core, it’s a survival horror film.
“As much as Die Hard was an influence, Assault on Precinct 13 was bigger. Die Hard was all about the spectacle [whereas] Assault On Precinct 13 gave me the idea of creating tension and claustrophobia while also making people feel that this building was super-dangerous and filled with swarms of bad guys – without actually showing them!”
Evans, a 6ft 4ins gentle giant, lacked the budget for scores of extras so chose to build his tension via sound.
“A lot of times you’ll hear crowds banging on doors – but you don’t see anyone. You just see a shadow on a doorway. We hear people, we hear crowds, but it’s really just my sound guys in Thailand just screaming into a microphone.
“There were all these low-budget horror movie techniques that we used to ramp up the tension and fear.”
Evans was sufficiently comfortable with his milieu – a group of cops raid a crime kingpin’s multi-level headquarters and becomes the quarry of the villains inside it – to kill off his heroes and ladle on the gore.
One scene shows a machete-wielding killer seeking victims in a toilet block. In another key sequence, a man hiding inside a wall is caught in inventive fashion. Both were borrowed from Evans’s childhood nightmares.
“When the guy with a machete is checking the toilet cubicles, one by one, and he’s tapping his machete against the tiles… that’s like a stalk-and-slash movie,” he reveals. “And when the guy’s hiding in the wall, again, it’s all about playing around with feelings of claustrophobia and fear. It’s a situation with no escape.
“Actually, that wall scene was inspired by Michael Jackson’s Thriller! When I was a kid, that final moment, when the girl is in the house and all the zombies start breaking in through the walls… that terrified me. I hated feeling that it doesn’t matter how much you hide yourself someone, or something, can always break in and find you.
“I know people are going see this as a martial arts film [so] I was trying to find elements that you don’t usually get in a martial arts film. I wanted people to be surprised by some of the elements we’ve thrown in there. And hopefully that comes across.”
The Raid (15) is on general release.