Of all the sub genres in horror, the revenge theme has to be at the top as the most overused plotline of the past decade or so. It’s not that it’s inherently bad, but how can you make it stand out and stand up to classics like I Spit on Your Grave, or Last House on the Left? If you’re writer, director, and producer Karen Lim, you give it your own spin and let the audience bask in the blood soaked results.
Evangeline is a rather shy college student, daughter of a preacher and dealing with the death of her sister. She meets her very outgoing roommate Shannon who quickly lures Evangeline out of her shell. While at a Frat party (which resembles no frat party I’d ever been to), she flirts slightly with the handsome fraternity leader Michael Konner (Con-her which is appropriate), and then accompanies him later in the movie to his father’s hunting cabin. Konner waxes poetic about how people are too trusting and can disappear with no one ever missing them. This sets up a scene where Evangeline is released into the woods and hunted down by Konner and his frat brothers, in a harrowing and tense chase sequence.
After being assaulted and left for dead, the boys aren’t too concerned about hiding the body, which is a shame for them, as Evangeline wasn’t quite dead. She’s brought to a campsite and nursed back to health, and after a series of events that I won’t spoil, she goes on her quest for revenge.
Lim does a great job with her second feature film. There’s a lot of religious symbolism and flashbacks that slowly tells Evangeline’s backstory. She knows how to give out just enough information without over explaining it, which I find a refreshing change of pace. She has an ear for dialogue, as the first 25 minutes or so of the movie will attest, as the conversations between Shannon and Evangeline come across very natural and believable. So often a movie is marred by bad lines, but Lim is pretty consistent throughout the film with her writing, which only enhances the story.
Kat de Lieva inhabits her character with great ease. She has a presence onscreen that commands you to watch her, and though she spends the last half of the movie without saying a word, she communicates quite successfully with body language and expressions. One of the plot points that differentiates Evangeline from the rest of the pack is that it’s revealed there’s a spirit possessing her and aiding her to carry out her mission. Well, that’s a revealed late in the movie, prior to that, we’re led to believe that she’s drawing on something within her-a darker side that gives her the strength to take on her assailants. We see her in a concrete room, barren aside from a chair in the middle of the room that she sits on. While it could be seen as a weigh station between life and death, for me it was far more her subconscious. When Evangeline is possessed, de Lieva really gets to let loose, and there’s something quite fun seeing someone as petite as she is kicking the crap out of guys who tower over her.
Richard Harmon adds to his collection of creepy characters with Konner. His ability to go from innocuous frat boy to a sadistic killer is quite the transformation. Lim is clever with his character; when we first meet him he seems normal, though in the back of our heads we’ve got a red flag being waved; yet, as we see him more, he continues that genial façade until he gets Evangeline to his cabin where things take a turn for the worse. Harmon is chilling and his calm psychotic character really comes to life.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Mayumi Yoshida as Evangeline’s roommate Shannon. She’s a very likable character, and while she gets a lot of screen time, I almost wanted to see even more, I absolutely loved watching Yoshida particularly when she first meets her soon to be missing roomie.
Evangeline isn’t perfect, the pacing is off as bit in places, and it’s a bit slow to pick up steam (the first half hour or so could have been trimmed a bit), and there’s a serial killer subplot that just didn’t fit in with the rest of the movie. While I liked him as a character, it felt like he wandered in off the set of another movie. I’d love to see a movie about him at some point, as I found his behavior fascinating and unique, (he takes a handprint of his victim and then has it tattooed on his body). I really thought the whole bit at the campsite didn’t quite work, other than a way to create a higher body count.
When Evangeline is released on VOD May 8th, I would recommend checking it out. Is it a classic? No, but it is a cut above the rest. With strong performances all around, and a deft confident hand behind the camera, Evangeline is someone you may want to spend some with.
Make sure to take a listen to the interview I conducted with director Karen Lim and Kat de Lieva. We talk about the movie, how Kat got Richard Harmon to sing the SpongeBob SquarePants theme at an audition, as well as what VOD and streaming holds for movies in the future.