Vancouver horror director’s new film explores sexual assault

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Karen Lam
Karen Lam

In the wake of a string of local attacks at UBC, a new horror film by Vancouver filmmaker Karen Lam that explores rape and abuse, will be premiering at Toronto’s Blood in the Snow film festival.

Lam’s film, titled Evangeline, is her second feature film as a writer director, and may be her most controversial. “It’s a revenge fantasy of a young woman who is brutally beaten,” Lam said. “Whether she’s killed or otherwise, she’s left in the forest and the revenge begins there.”

During the editing of the film, Vancouver news outlets began reporting on an alarming spike in sexual assault at UBC and in south Vancouver. Lam said that although the recent attacks happened after she began working on the film, it’s hard to live in Vancouver and not be aware of sexual violence against women.

“The original short film that it’s based on was inspired by the highway of tears, and when you’ve got something like Robert Pickton going on, the UBC attacks sort of solidified everything,” she said.

Starting a conversation

Lam is an avid horror fan, and her four previous films were all horror genres.

“I tend to go to fairly dark places,” she said.

Lam believes that the horror genre allows audiences to explore a lot of their fears when a dramatic interpretation might be too much.

“I don’t want to call them entertaining because the points themselves aren’t entertaining, but horror’s always been my preferred place of writing and directing,” she said. “In the real world you might not feel so empowered, because the reality is for a lot of these girls, if you really actually are beaten, there’s no coming back from that.”

Lam hopes the film will become a talking point for men and women who are university-age and will prompt them to think about sexual violence.

“The audience really is intended for young women and young men in the college environment,” she said.

However, local actor and filmmaker Momona Komagata said that she is unsure if the horror genre is the right way to explore themes like sexual abuse in a serious way.

“I think there’s a benefit in being entertained, which is really what films are about in my opinion,” said Komagata, “That entertainment can come in different forms, whether that be through education, thrills or shock and awe.”

“I don’t know if it’s important for college-aged women to see but if it can encourage some of them to be more careful and preventive, that’s a positive.”

Evangeline was partially filmed at Capilano University and UBC.
Evangeline was partially filmed at Capilano University and UBC.

Exploring horror

Lam said that she made sure to cast actors who were the right age for the university setting she was going for, and that she considered if the material would be too difficult for some actors to portray.

“Kat De Lieva, who plays Evangeline, she really wanted to do it. She really believed in the material,” she said. “I wonder whether or not for a young female actress, since I’m a female director, whether that makes a difference.”

“It’s not intended to be exploitative, and how I deal with things like rape and sexual assault and violence is maybe a little bit different than how a male director would have – you know, where I put the camera, how much I show – not that I shy away from these things but I’m also very conscious of not re-brutalizing my actor and the character.”

Komagata said that when acting difficult scenes, the acting can start to feel real and affect her.

“You have to go to certain places in your mind. It can be draining,” she said.

However, she also said that it can feel liberating and satisfying to portray difficult topics because she’s knows she’s getting an important story in front of viewers.

Evangeline will premiere in Toronto on Friday, but so far Lam isn’t sure when it will be available to filmgoers in Vancouver.

“We filmed a lot of it at Capilano and a little extra at UBC, I’m thinking of showing it at the universities.”

Lam hopes that when the film does come to Vancouver, audiences won’t be too scared to see the film.

“It is dark fantasy and it is a revenge genre film but on the other hand it’s coming from some place that’s really quite real,” Lam said. “The intent really is to get people to talk about it, and if anything, what I’ve read in the newspapers, things are worse than what I even put in the film.”

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