UNNATURAL & ACCIDENTAL (Carl Bessai). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (December 1). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Vancouver's east side is notorious for its drug and sex trades. But it's also the site of massive indifference on the part of the police. This came to light during the 1990s, when a dozen or so women, many of them aboriginal and/or prostitutes, were mysteriously killed. Their seemingly unimportant deaths were dismissed by the press and police as "unnatural and accidental."
Those unsolved murders - and the horrible social negligence behind them - are at the dark heart of Marie Clements's play and now film. Carmen Moore plays Rebecca, a young native woman who discovers that her mother, whom she hasn't seen in 25 years, is possibly alive. She scours the area's seedy hotels and bars and ends up discovering despair, alcoholism and murder.
Director Carl Bessai creates a nightmarish mood of urban loneliness and booze-filled escape. Callum Keith Rennie, who seems to be in every Canadian feature, plays a serial killer who preys on the women's vulnerabilities. His role has been punched up from the play, which consisted mostly of haunting monologues. But by focusing on his creepy stalking techniques, the film gives the murders a sensationalistic feel.
The repeated sequences of enticement, killing and then shocking newspaper headlines feel monotonous. And a motif about animal trapping seems grafted on for symbolic weight.
But good performances make up for these stylistic inconsistencies. Moore and Rennie commit themselves completely to their roles, as do a terrific ensemble of aboriginal actors. Tantoo Cardinal as Rebecca's mother and Margo Kane as the lonely, middle-aged Mavis bring dignity and depth to their victimized characters.