Short film review: Pre Vis Action (Gareth Evans)
James R | On 31, Jan 2016
Director: Gareth Evans
Watch Pre Vis Action online: YouTube
On Sundays, we review short films available on VOD. We call it Short Film Sunday.
Action movies these days are all about fast cuts, impossible-to-follow set pieces and CGI. Anyone who thinks that has never seen a Gareth Evans film. The director changed the genre when he released The Raid in 2011, a claustrophobic, balls-to-the-wall thriller that stripped out everything unnecessary save for the painful bits. The idea of him making a short film, then, is more exciting than most feature films.
Pre Vis Action, released by Evans last week, doesn’t disappoint, packing in more jaw-dropping thrills than many blockbusters – and that’s saying something, given the film is 1. Designed for a 12A certificate, 2. Intended as a rehearsal for another project and 3. Filmed in Wales. In fact, the whole thing was apparently a muck-around last summer, when Yayan Ruhian, Cecep Arif Rahman and Hannah Al Rashid went to visit Evans. Some people go to the beach on their summer holidays; Gareth shoots a samurai movie.
His passion for sheer action has never been more evident: while The Raid 2 saw the director stretch a little too far in the creation of an epic plot, everything here is stripped down to what a group of friends can do through talent and pure enthusiasm.
The plot sees a young warrior (Al Rashid) trying to deliver a crucial document between two rivals – only to have her journey through the woods interrupted by two assassins. The three-way showdown is worthy of a two-hour flick’s climax. That’s partly thanks to Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman’s choreography. Worked out with Evans, the three are experimenting with what’s possible within the boundaries of a 12A certificate – and that sense of trial and error is obvious from the creativity of the moves, which juggle efficient murders with elegance, humour and unusual movements. Ruhian and Rahman proved their martial arts mettle in The Raid 2 and Al Rashid more than matches them toe to toe, something that’s even more impressive given they all wear crocs and her only learned the choreography the night before each day of the three-day shoot.
Sound and music gurus Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi bring gloss to the gore with a blend of Japanese and Indonesian instruments, but it’s Evans’ camera that really completes the electric ensemble. Evans understands action, to the point where he doesn’t storyboard or even edit in the conventional way; he works out his framing by going through the sequences on set. He moves himself in response to the actors; another dancer in the brutal ballet. And so his lens does things you would simply never see in other directors’ work: when the fighters move towards each other, his camera echoes them. When they stop, he stops. When they clash, he spins around them, over and over. When one blocks behind their head, his camera leans in and tilts behind their hands. It’s dizzyingly unique – as a test to see what he can do, it’s even more mouth-watering.
Many directors wouldn’t post such a thing on the web for all to see for free. Evans, to his credit, is also active on Twitter, happy to answer questions about the project. Amid his barrage of behind-the-scenes tidbits, he notes that one of the reasons for making the movie – as well as wanting to do something his child could see – was “mainly cos I really needed to fucking shoot something after 2yrs without picking up a camera”. That’s what separates Evans from other filmmakers in the same genre: he doesn’t just like filming action; he needs to. Long may that urge continue.