Londoners might have their faults, but they cared enough about their
prostitutes to create a firestorm of alarm over the Ripper murders.
Unfortunately, late 1990s/early millennial Vancouver was apathetic enough to
allow Robert Pickton to murder forty-nine marginalized women before he was
finally acknowledged and caught. Bizarrely, the historical record is even worse
than the dramatized survivors’ stories in Rachel (Tank Girl) Talalay’s On the
which screens during the 2016 Portland Film Festival.
only Constable Sindead McLeod, whose beat includes the Red Light district, recognizes
the obvious signs of a serial killer at work. The prostitutes themselves try to
take protective measures, but drug addiction and general desperation keep
leading them into bad decisions, like getting into the pick-up truck of
millionaire hog farmer Robert Pickton (known simply as “the Farmer” in OTF). He already had a bad reputation
among the sex-workers, but he had a knack for finding street walkers jonesing
for a hit.
Taylor is a First Nations prostitute based on a real life escapee from Pickton’s
farm of horrors, but her timeline is radically different. In real life, Pickton
was briefly tried for her attempted murder, but the prosecution was dropped for
reasons of incompetence well before the grisly discoveries on his now infamous
appears only briefly in OTF (but Ben
Cotton’s wild eyes and tangled David Koresh hair are eerily spot-on). Instead,
Talalay and screenwriter Dennis Foon (adapting Stevie Cameron’s expose) focus
on Taylor’s harrowing ordeal and the career-threatening risks McLeod and a
handful of RCMP task force colleagues willingly run to stop the killings.
Tailfeathers is frighteningly convincing as Taylor, never whitewashing any of
her infuriating junkie realities. She truly could be her own worst enemy. Probably
the most recognizable cast member, Tantoo Cardinal delivers the film’s teaching
moments with welcome understatement as Taylor’s mother. Patrick Gallagher (Attila
the Hun in the Night at the Museum franchise)
nicely anchors the film with hardnosed grit as RCMP Jeff Keeley. Sara Canning
is competent enough as McLeod, but she lacks similar presence.
OTF had a special community premiere before it aired on Canadian television, but the CBC
production’s small screen origins are always pretty evident. Viewers can see
the spaces where the commercials would be plugged in. Still, Talalay steadily
cranks up the tension and the outrage, reducing viewers to a near state of apoplexy.
It is a safe bet Judge James Williams is not a fan, but it is undeniably
effective as a procedural with a social conscience. Recommended for Law & Order and Da Vinci’s Inquest fans, On
the Farm screens this Saturday (9/3) as part of this year’s Portland Film
Labels: Canadian Cinema, PDXFF '16, Serial killer movies