Karen Lam is the Canadian director of Evangeline, a fantastic horror looking at the morality of vengeance from a supernatural perspective, and which will soon have a DVD and VOD release in the US.
STARBURST: Despite having a supernatural element, Evangeline is driven by the actions of real people. What inspired the story?
Karen Lam: I’m a news junkie, and many of the true-crime horror stories about young women being assaulted on campus really got under my skin. There’s also a highway up north in British Columbia, nicknamed the “Highway of Tears” because so many young women have gone missing on that stretch. It’s truly frightening.
One of Evangeline’s themes is a look at misogyny and how its perpetrators are dealt with (or as is all too often the case, aren’t). Is this something you feel particularly strongly about?
I was actually much more interested in exploring the ideas of revenge and forgiveness – for me, the film is more about cruelty and hierarchy than gender, although I believe that gender and power are very much interlinked. Our present society is very unbalanced and (what I tried to show in the characters of Jim and Billy) anyone who falls outside of the social structure will be equally mistreated.
As well as violence and murder there was also a degree of casual racism from the killers, specifically towards an Asian girl. Is this a reflection of anything you’ve had to deal with?
I have dealt with it in my past, although it tends to be less blatant nowadays but more subversive. In some ways, it’s harder now because the prejudices are under the surface. For example, Vancouver has experienced a huge increase in Chinese immigration over the last decade and our housing prices have gone sky high. The comments now are about limiting “foreign investment” or “overseas buyers”, which is a much more veiled way of expressing racism.
What did you learn from your first feature Stained that you brought into the making of Evangeline?
After having a large number of investors, producers and distributors on Stained, I really wanted to strip this film down to its essence: in many ways, I made my first film second, and my second film first! I like the freedom of a smaller budget, if that makes any sense. I have fewer bosses.
With many of your main cast being quite young, were there any problems with shooting the more disturbing scenes of the film?
The actors are all in their 20s and professionally trained, so the scenes were actually quite light-hearted in shooting. I think whenever we’re making something so dark, the atmosphere and tone doesn’t come through until we’re screening to an audience, and the editing/sound design/score work their magic.
The film’s stars Kat de Lieva and Richard Harmon each look perfect for their roles (doe-eyed innocent and soulless murderer respectively). How was each of them cast?
I first saw Richard on a flight to LA – I had just written the script and when he came into the waiting room, I thought “There he is!” Katarina auditioned, and I loved her mix of vulnerability and strength. She also looks a lot like my best friend from when I was five, whose life I borrowed bits and pieces from when I was imagining the Evangeline character.
As well as playing Eva’s friend Shannon, Mayumi Yoshida also performs as the demon that torments her in purgatory. How was it decided she should play both parts?
I think the Demon role was quite a bit smaller in the script, so really, I adored working with Mayumi and I was just needing a dark shadow in the background. I asked her to come back during the shoot, and when we were shooting the purgatory scenes, her role grew and grew as Mayumi did more and more.
You’ve cast David Lewis in many of your films and he almost always ends up dying horribly! How did you first meet and how has your working relationship developed since then?
I met David on Doll Parts, and we’ve been great friends since. I’ve learned a lot from working with him – he’s really smart, a great writer in his own right (he wrote and produced Stalled, a short film I directed), and really puts his heart into every role. He comes up with choices that push my comfort zone: it was actually his suggestion to do the workout scene in the buff. I only agreed because I misread his email and couldn’t go back on my word.
Having made a number of short films, do you have a preference between them or full-length features?
I love working on both shorts and features – they’re very different things, like short stories versus a novella. I have yet to tackle a long form like a TV series, which is like a novel. The shorts allow me to really push specific ideas, and experiment with techniques and stories in a way that I can’t do in a longer format.
Now that shared universes across multiple mediums are becoming increasingly frequent (thanks, Marvel) and with your shorts Doll Parts and The Stolen and web series Mythos all sharing a similar background mythology with Evangeline, do you see them as existing in the same world?
The stories all come from my understanding of the universe: I studied comparative religion and mythology in my undergrad, so I do use the films to explore these ideas.
Is this something you plan on expanding?
I have two other feature films written, and am in development on a mini-series based on Evangeline. We also have a graphic novel series, written by my story editor Gavin Bennett that is in need of good artist.
With Vancouver being a popular filming location for innumerable films and TV shows, is it any different making a film in the city when you actually live there?
Vancouver has been the inspiration for all my stories; I feel like the city exists on the threshold between the living and the dead, and all I have to do is keep my eyes open. The challenge (and benefits) of working in a production hub is that you have incredible infrastructure: the cast and crew are internationally trained – I can’t imagine living or working anywhere else in the world.
Although Evangeline was made in 2013, it’s only now getting a release. What caused the delay?
2014 was a film festival year – we played festivals at home, Australia, South Africa and Asia. We delayed released until it finished its festival run, and we released in Canada on Superchannel (our pay-TV station, as they were one of our financiers) in October 2014. But a US release takes time to set up, which is why we’re just releasing now with our distributor Uncork’d.
Is there any word on if/when Evangeline might get a UK release?
We’re just planning the rest of our international release strategy now. Stay tuned...
What do you have planned next?
I’m just putting polishing touches on the two feature scripts, and I’m currently in production on my first feature-length documentary about a band. But don’t worry: it will end in bloodshed.
Evangeline will be available in the US on VOD from May 8th and DVD from June 9th and is reviewed here.