If it’s diversity you want, then opening your film festival with a supernatural rape-revenge movie made by a female Chinese-Canadian director is a pretty great way to go. When the ninth annual Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off with its gala opening on Thursday (March 6), Evangeline will fit the bill to a fine T.
It holds even more interest if you consider the myriad other ways that Karen Lam’s feature reflects life here in Vancouver, from themes that include a roaming serial killer—with its tacit reference to the Highway of Tears—to the film’s very existence as a female-made genre film. Between the Soska twins (American Mary) and Lam, our city has generated a lot of attention as a hot spot in the renaissance of feminist horror.
“Although,” says Lam, calling the Straight from her downtown home, “some horror people have said I haven’t made a true out-and-out horror yet. I make thrillers. I like dark fantasy. I’m definitely genre, but I’m what traditionally horror is, which is that sense of dread and suspense.”
Indeed, it’s Lam’s literary influences—she cites Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne du Maurier, and Mary Shelley—that are felt in the movie’s strange, spectral feel. In Evangeline, our titular heroine (played by Kat de Lieva) is a college student from a religious background who enters a kind of purgatory when she’s stalked and abused by a series of men. Like Ms. 45 gone eldritch, it’s from this place between worlds that she exacts her revenge. Lam points to the sway of supernatural B.C. itself.
“I don’t think you can walk in Stanley Park and not profoundly know that there is more to it than just us,” she says. “I can feel it. It’s there. And that’s what I find really interesting about Vancouver, as I’ve always seen us as on some threshold of the spiritual and the real.” Adds the filmmaker, whose background in “a very Christian community” was cross-pollinated with life in an Asian home: “Growing up in a Chinese household, my parents always had things like ancestor shrines. There was a sense that the dead always lived with us.”
It all makes for an impressively unique sensibility, down to the abstract imagery Lam conjures to depict Evangeline’s liminal state. That said, when violence comes, it’s anything but phantasmagoric. Lam resists what she calls the “stylized male fantasy” we’re used to seeing on-screen. “It’s not prettified,” she says. “Once guys start kicking, there’s just no grace there.”
Aesthetic achievements aside, this is where Lam’s work ties back to the implicitly political nature of the Women in Film Festival itself. Like all her works—including five shorts and 2010’s feature, Stained—Evangeline is ultimately driven by a sense of outrage. Dismissing the “task forces and judicial inquiries” that have so far yielded so little in confronting Vancouver’s dire history of violence against women, Lam says it’s the news that ultimately moves her to start hammering out a script.
“I get really angry about things,” she says, with a disarming chuckle. “If I’m in a happy, sane mood—well, why would anyone want to write, to be honest? It has to drive you and there has to be a certain fire there. I don’t just make entertainment. I have some things to say, otherwise I wouldn’t put myself through this.”
More info on the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (March 6 to 9), including screenings, workshops, and panel discussions, is at www.womeninfilm.ca/.