Karen Lam is a delightful woman. I know this simply from an interview I did with her for a podcast back in July of 2013. An award-winning director, writer, film and television producer, Karen is additionally professional, candid, and never shy about her women horror filmmakers advocacy. She was a natural choice for both me and my co-host to talk to about the Viscera Film Festival and her latest short The Meeting (2013). The film would go on to win the Best Film award at the event. Her work truly stands out from the rest. Much in the way filmmaker Devi Snively has a niche cinematic style she can call her own, Lam takes a personal yet universally empowering approach to style, tone, and characterization in the tales she brings to life.
When I think of Lam’s native Vancouver, especially being an avid genre fan for years (The X-Files being a notable example), the atmosphere in her films isn’t that far-fetched. Home certainly makes a huge impact on her body of work, seen most recently in her second feature, Evangeline (2013) set to make its first North American appearance and ushering in The Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival beginning Friday, November 29th at 7:00PM and thru December 1st in Toronto.
With imagery so bleak it coasts on nihilism, Evangeline calls to its audience like a whisper to our subconscious. It’s wholly complex; all depressing, intriguing, carnal, seductive, and prompting. It offers enough of a glimpse into another reality to understand its reasons for existing and effectively distorting the comfort of what is real. With the dose of religious imagery found within this text, it is easy to digest the concept that death is but energy, and the woods that shroud Evangeline pervert its purity. This is the title character’s journey. Not to necessarily turn back to her former self, but to revel in nature’s interpretation of salvation. And this is what made the film such a treat to experience.
The first glimpses of Evangeline (Kat De Lieva) are in movement, with images of her blurred past, a technique that informs its pain in remembrance dancing under the glow of a flashback. A relic of those times, an ivory bowl with an angel on its perch is a sorrowful addition to the dreary atmosphere established and music informing a tone of ambivalence. Eager to start anew at a university yet remaining elusive to her roommate Shannon (Mayumi Yoshida), acquaintance Molly (Natalie Grace) and even the audience with scant depictions of what we are to ponder about the kind of young woman we’re asked to invest in.
I am heavily hesitant to call her a “good girl”. It’s patronizing and gives no credence to the complexities later witnessed. But such a narrow description is exactly what propels the charming, unholy trinity of Konner (Richard Harmon), Ali (Dejan Loyola), and Mitch (Madison Smith) into a senseless act. Evangeline first catches their eye at the fraternity party of the year. Konner, possessing enough arrogant charm for Evangeline to fall prey to his demands carries a destructive path designed to seal ill fate of all involved. Terrorized and left for dead, Evangeline is summoned for a purpose that descends deeper into supernatural reality and psychological torment.
It is often in some of the best horror films that the horror itself needs no explanation. That an audience is left with a true grit feeling of powerlessness. If we cannot quantify or remedy our anxieties with a narrative solution, we are suspended in a state of distrust and paranoia of everyone, even ourselves.
One could argue that this was the case for Evangeline. Although a later revelation offers an inkling of insight into what haunts Evangeline, it is impossible not to imagine the ivory angel was shattered long before the two-person collision accident when Evangeline first meets Mark (Anthony Shim) and Shannon, breaking the small bowl.
I would be remiss not to mention how real life inspired Lam. Konner sees Evangeline as dispensable. Someone no one would miss. But Shannon expressed deep concern and remained passionate about finding her lost roommate. In an interview in We: Vancouver’s Urban Weekly while discussing the short film Evangeline is loosely based, Doll Parts (2011), Karen makes a purposeful statement about the women from her hometown who have become victims of kidnapping:
Women, and currently young men, can just go missing in droves. It makes you feel very, very peculiar. We have skyrocketing real estate prices and then is population that falls between the cracks. That’s what inspired me to do Doll Parts: anger. I’ve also been following the Highway of Tears [case]. How many woman have gone missing, but ‘No, there’s no serial killer. There’s nothing out there.’ How many women have to go missing before something gets done?
Evangeline makes a critical cultural statement unapologetically. It forces us to confront how men and women alike dis-value and overlook young women’s lives. We’re at a turning point in our socio-cultural spaces where technology has allowed for mobilization against injustices like never before. Inside of the title character lies a dark truth carried throughout the film: although outside forces may be against us in terrorizing tidals, we can become masters of our own agency in ways that are not always pretty or fixed. Although the word “revenge” has been used to describe Evangeline, all the same, “power” is a concept at play in the actions that follow the inciting incident.
What one can take away from Evangeline is a myriad of unrest. It is a testimony to some of the best horror being produced, and Evangeline is currently raising the bar.
Friday November 29th at 7 PM, Carlton Cinemas