Evangeline, filmed in British Columbia by Opiate Pictures, is inspired by serial killings of women that have remained unsolved for decades. “We’ve had serial killers go uncaught for years,” says director Karen Lam. “In two square blocks of Vancouver, 65 women went missing over two decades. There’s also a Highway of Tears in the northern part of our province where 18 young women have gone missing since the ‘70s. There’s still no resolution to that.” Many of these disappeared ones were prostitutes working in Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside – the worst urban slum in Canada.
Evangeline (the winsome Kat de Lieva) leaves her pious home to expand her horizons at university. She is also recovering from the death of her younger sister, and these mournful scenes get the film off to a depressing start. But just as Evangeline makes friends and begins to break out of her shell, the hapless girl attracts the attention of a sociopathic fraternity leader (a Robert Pattinson-esque Richard Harmon) and his two sadistic cohorts, who beat her to death in an isolated cabin. Evangeline’s corpse is left to rot in the woods, where it is invaded by a forest demon (its origins unknown and unexplained). The mostly unseen demon, save for its scaly hands, restores Evangeline to life. Trapped in a stone cell, a sort of interzone between life and death, she is now able to avenge her murder at the hands of the wealthy and privileged students whose problems with women also remain unexplained. However, the more Evangeline inflicts deathly violence upon her killers, the more demonic she becomes. Her face begins to resemble a powdered white death mask. Slowly losing her humanity, Evangeline surveys her cracked hands after each revenge killing, realizing she is becoming a demon.
Meanwhile, Mr. K, a mysterious, deceptively congenial middle-aged man (David Lewis), prowls the deep woods at night, picking up stray female hitchhikers, raping them, burying them alive or slitting their throats. And a thoroughly loathsome pimp torments every attractive woman he encounters. The only decent male character is portrayed as his girlfriend’s “slave.”
Evangeline is categorized by its director as “feminist response horror” but, as a male, I found it offensive and unpleasant. Further, that so many serial killers are active in a small university town – invariably getting away with the torture and murder of attractive females – strains credibility and suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Not one law enforcement agent, whether male or female, is on the scene to investigate the crimes, which almost seem to be taken for granted by the community. Evangeline, despite being described as a “supernatural female revenge fantasy”, is a bore. The script is devoid of suspense or humor to break up the tension, such as it is. Patric Caird’s plunky gutbucket score is a long way from Bernard Herrmann’s compelling orchestrations and does not draw the viewer into the film.
When I watch a horror movie, I want to be frightened and entertained, not bored or subjected to gender politics or feminist polemics. My take on Evangeline is that it is a crisply-lensed 90-minute thriller lacking in shocks, and with a pronounced anti-male bias. By all means, let female horror directors thrive, but they must live up to certain expectations inherent in the genre… and the most obvious goal is to scare the audience to death. Evangeline fails to achieve this objective.
Lam reveals that: “Horror, action and fantasy are really all I want to do. There’s no hidden rom-com in me, dying to get out. I love being in the extremes of storytelling: I want to be able to create worlds, and I don’t think drama would give me the same latitude.” To succeed, Lam will have to start making horror films that also appeal to the male viewer, rather than dismissing half her potential audience.
The North American premiere of Evangeline will be on November 29, as the gala opening film of “The Blood in the Snow” Canadian Film Festival at the Carlton Cinemas in Toronto.